Emerging from the crisis thanks to research

2021 Research Summit Emerging from the crisis thanks to research

Strengthening research in Germany and in Europe and pooling forces – that is the key to fighting the consequences of the pandemic and emerging from the crisis stronger than before. At the virtual Research Summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated retaining a high level research and development spending even after COVID-19.

Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the research summit by video link from the Federal Chancellery.

During the pandemic in particular we have seen “how important science and research are for our lives and  our everyday activities,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel at the research summit.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

The COVID-19 pandemic has impressively demonstrated the innovative force of the German and European research sector. Germany is in a strong position compared to other countries with its above-average investment in research and innovation. Where there is still scope for improvement, according to representatives of the R&D and business communities, is in translating research results into commercial applications, developing and realising digital business models, e-government services, and turning around the downward trend in the numbers of new business start-ups.

Germany offers a wide range of opportunities as a biotech centre

“Now in particular it is becoming apparent how important science and research are for our lives and our everyday activities,” stressed the Chancellor, with a view to the COVID-19 pandemic. “If there is anything positive at all to say about the pandemic, with all its painful consequences, it is that it has delivered practical evidence that Germany is at the forefront of health research.” The first vaccine to be approved for use in the EU was developed in Germany. 

Alongside the mRNA technology, other pioneering fields such as genetic scissors and quantum technology offer medical research a great deal of potential. “I am absolutely convinced that Germany has excellent opportunities to play a pivotal role in ground-breaking medical innovation, as a biotech centre,” said Angela Merkel. Although the preconditions must be put in place swiftly so that new technologies can be translated into commercial applications as well as possible. 

Since 2015, the annual Research Summit of German industry has provided a forum for high-ranking decision-makers, experts, pioneers, visionaries and newcomers from the business community, the science and research community, civil society, and the realm of politics to explore solutions to current issues and challenges in research and innovation policy. The Research Summit is organised by Stifterverband, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation (EFI) and the Volkswagen Foundation. It is an interdisciplinary forum that fosters dialogue and networking.

Pioneers and visionaries of a global energy shift

Innovation presupposes investment, stressed Angela Merkel. The Federal and Länder Governments have consistently increased their budgets – by 72 per cent between 2009 and 2019. The latest figures show that the public and private sectors invested 3.18 per cent of Germany’s GDP (gross domestic product) in research and development. “This puts Germany up among the global leaders and I hope that we will stay there in future,” said the Chancellor. Spending on research is to rise to around 3.5 per cent of GDP. 

In terms of the energy shift, success is dependent on research, said Angela Merkel. “Expectations of green hydrogen are high in this context.” The Federal Government’s National Hydrogen Strategy lays a sound foundation for making energy supplies more sustainable, while also tapping into new markets. In this, Germany is also looking beyond its own borders. “As a high-tech country, we have the opportunity to be pioneers and visionaries in a global energy shift.”

At the Research Summit, which this year was marked from the outset by the 2021 Bundestag elections, experts from the fields of business, science and research, civil society and politics discussed how to ensure the key research and innovation policy groundwork during the next parliamentary term. The question as to whether the state needs to intervene in innovation processes, and if so how, and to what extent was central. “As much market as possible and as little regulation as necessary,” the experts agreed.