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€60bn stimulus for education, research, innovation

Package to tackle post-coronavirus economy provides plentiful funds to help science and universities

Germany’s federal government has proposed the creation of a €130-billion economic stimulus package to counteract the impact of Covid-19, with nearly half of this funding going to education and science.

According to research minister Anja Karliczek, almost €60bn have been earmarked for education, research and innovation. The stimulus package is supposed to help businesses and societal institutions whose work has been stifled by the coronavirus pandemic, which Germany tackled by placing the country under lockdown from mid-March to mid-May.

The stimulus package has been hammered out by Germany’s coalition of the conservative CDU and CSU parties and the social-democratic SPD.

If implemented, around €13bn of the package would towards supporting “future technologies”, green hydrogen, quantum technologies and artificial intelligence, according to the research ministry. In addition, research and production of vaccines and medical products and the digitalisation of the health system are to profit.

As part of the package, the maximum level of tax exemptions for R&D-heavy companies will be doubled to €1 million, the ministry said. Furthermore, the package would roll out a temporary reduction in value-added tax, a family tax bonus, a purchase premium on electric cars, financial relief for local authorities and reductions in electricity prices.

“There has never been such a powerful future package for the innovation nation Germany,” said Karliczek. “With this package, we will give new impetus to research, but also to the economy in central future fields.”

The package was met with general approval from researchers and politicians. The GEW, Germany’s trade union for education and science, called the measures a “step in the right direction”, while the Fraunhofer Society, a collection of applied research institutes, welcomed it as a “courageous economic stimulus”, according to its president Reimund Neugebauer.

Kai Gehring, science policy spokesman for the Green Party, which sits in opposition, said in a social media post that “there is a lot” in the package. However, he criticised what he said was a lack of funding for climate and health research as “blatant blanks”.

Some other organisations also voiced criticism and said they had been left out of the package. The project provides extra funding for regular hospitals, but university hospitals could only profit to a “very limited extend” and after overcoming “high hurdles”, said Germany’s University Hospital Association.

The association’s secretary general Jens Bussmann said the differentiation between the two kinds of hospitals was “incomprehensible”. “If the federal government wants to support hospitals, university hospitals, which play a decisive role in coping with the current challenges of the pandemic, cannot be left out,” he said.

The German Federation of Industrial Research (AiF) and the Zuse-Gemeinschaft, which represents nonprofit industrial research organisations, issued a joint statement, saying that project funding was not adequately provided for in the package. They pointed out that competitive innovation in German companies is often stimulated by project funding from the federal government.

“However, the coalition’s plans to date have given insufficient consideration to project funding,” the two organisations said. While the package envisages “substitute financing” for projects in large non-university research organisations, there is a complete lack of such support for medium-sized and small institutions, they said.

The stimulus deal needs to be approved by the German parliament and the Bundesrat, the government’s legislative body, before implementation.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe