Joblessness, Weak Economy Hamper German Research


NEITHER east nor west German scientists are very happy with their federal government.

In the east, the reason is joblessness. After reunification, East Germany's centrally planned scientific-research system was entirely reorganized. Employment at the Academy of Sciences, the main focus for research and development (R&D) in East Germany, was reduced from 24,000 to 13,000.

In the west, scientists complain about shrinking funds. Although the 1993 federal R&D budget is up by 2.8 percent over last year, nearly 20 percent of it has to be funneled to eastern Germany, and that means sacrifice in the west.

West Germans "sent teams of experts into every nook and cranny, searching for the world-class" portions of the East German system, a Western science diplomat in Europe says. The Germans, he adds, were "ruthless" in eliminating deadwood.

Now the former Academy of Sciences has been replaced by 100 small institutes and three large R&D centers. Two centers - one dedicated to biomedicine and the other to geoscience - build on existing east German technological strengths. The third, which focuses on the environment, is based on the region's needs.

The federal Research Ministry is also nurturing R&D at east German universities but can do little to further research in east German industry. "This has to do with the fact that there is no more industry there," ministry spokesman Walter Monig says regretfully.

Despite budget constraints, the German government still pursues its priorities of environmental (especially climate) and medical research, and research into what it calls "the technologies of the 21st century," including information technology, new materials, and biotechnology. The government directs most funds to basic research, relying on big industry to fund its own research.

Germany spends more on R&D than other large European countries - 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product - and it is the largest contributor to European Community R&D - 26 percent. But its economic problems are being felt by neighbors, as Germany reduces contributions to the European Space Agency's manned-flight program and Geneva's high-energy physics project, CERN.

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