German research minister Anja Karliczek helped negotiate a budget deal with steady rises for science.

Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

German research promised a decade of budget increases

BERLIN—German research organizations cheered a decision announced today by state and federal ministers to increase research budgets by 3% a year for the next decade—a total boost of €17 billion over that time. For more than a decade, German research organizations have enjoyed consistent budget increases—3% boosts every year since 2006, even during downturns in the German economy. But some observers have worried that falling tax revenues and deep disagreements between state and federal ministers could bring an end to the largesse.

The news turned out much better than most expected. Not only will the research organizations—including the Max Planck Society and the grantmaking agency the German Research Foundation—get their increases, universities and technical schools will also receive significant boosts through 2027. “It’s a huge relief,” says Matthias Kleiner, president of the country’s Leibniz Association here, which includes more than 90 research institutes. The agreement is “an extraordinarily positive and encouraging signal for science.”

The deal also approves two new Max Planck institutes: the Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection, to be based in Bochum, and a new independent Institute for the Biology of Behavior in Radolfzell, previously part of the Institute for Ornithology. The Leibniz Association will also add two institutes: The German Resilience Center in Mainz will study factors that keep people healthy even under stressful conditions and the Center for Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe in Frankfurt will study the effects of political decisions on finance markets.

Negotiations centered on who—the federal or state government—should shoulder the increases. Since 2014, the federal government has covered the budget increases, skewing traditional cost-sharing formulas between the federal and state governments. The funding of Max Planck institutes traditionally is split 50-50 between the state and federal government, for example, whereas Leibnitz institutes are funded 90% by states.

The federal government’s insistence that the states return to covering their full share was a threat to the 3% yearly boosts. Instead, the ministers agreed to keep the budgets growing and to spread out the rebalancing process over a 10-year agreement instead of the usual 5 years. The federal government will cover most of the increases through 2023, and the states will increase their share from 2024 through 2030.

In return, the research organizations will undergo more yearly evaluations—and a full evaluation in 5 years. That doesn’t mean the increases are in jeopardy, Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek said here at a press conference. “It will be a chance to make sure the organizations are on track to meet the goals they set—and refocus if necessary,” she says. Kleiner welcomes the evaluations. “We have to accept that we can show we are using the money wisely.”

In recent weeks Karliczek has been the target of criticism, with commentators predicting she would be one of the first ministers to go if Chancellor Angela Merkel reshuffles her cabinet, as is expected following European elections in late May. But the agreement could silence some of those critics. “It’s a brilliant coup” for the minister, Kleiner says.

Merkel and state leaders are expected to give final approval to the plan on 6 June.