Germany splurges on high-tech investment in bid to lead world

Germany already spends 3.17% of its GDP on research and innovation compared to the 2.19% EU average, making it a global leader in the field. [EPA-EFE/Andreas Gora / POOL]

With its High Tech Strategy 2025, Germany has laid out its ambitions to position itself at the forefront of the next technological revolution, though critics say Europe’s biggest economy still has some catching up to do. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany’s strategy foresees investing 3.5% of GDP in research and innovation by 2025 in a bid to secure the leading international position in future technologies such as hydrogen, quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

“Germany is a country of innovation and should remain so. The federal government is committed to this goal,” Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek told a recent German parliament plenary session.

Germany has counted a few successes in this area in recent weeks, overseeing Europe’s first fully digitalised chip plant opening at the start of June, and Europe’s first quantum computer going into operation a week later, both on German soil.

Europe's first digitalised chip plant opens in Dresden

German engineering and technology company Bosch opened a new semiconductor factory, fully networked with 5G mobile technology, in Dresden on Monday (7 June). The production facility was funded with €140 million as part of a joint European project.

Investing in innovation

Eurostat figures show Germany already spends 3.17% of its GDP on research and innovation compared to the 2.19% EU average, making it a global leader in the field and one of the EU’s three countries that already meet the 3% target set by the European Commission.

“We have come much closer to the 3.5% target for research and development set for 2025 in this legislative period,” minister Karliczek told parliament on 25 June, presenting a new cabinet report on the strategy.

Spending on research and innovation more than doubled from €9 billion in 2005 to €18.8 billion in 2019, the cabinet report shows.

Private sector investment in the field has also increased as the government and businesses both spent a total of €109.5 billion on research and development in 2019.

Some gaps remain

However, Germany still has some catching up to do in some areas, with a report of the expert commission on research and innovation (EFI) calling for more focus to be placed on vocational education and training to ensure the success of the digital transformation.

These shortcomings were reflected in the 2021 Bloomberg Innovation Index, in which Germany ranked 23rd in terms of education and slipped from first place down to fourth in the overall innovation category.

Critics say the High-Tech Strategy 2025 also lacks objectives and benchmarks, with MP Thomas Sattelberger of the opposition liberal Free Democrats (FDP) calling it “just a simple list of various projects without measurable success criteria.”

In its report, the EFI also called on the government to anchor concrete objectives in the strategy and strengthen coordination between the ministries to achieve these goals.

Germany launches Europe's first 'revolutionary' quantum computer

Europe’s first quantum computer was launched in Ehningen, Baden-Württemberg on Tuesday (15 June), amid expectations from experts that the tech’s exorbitantly high computing power will do away with “traditional computing”.

Behind on patents

Meanwhile, Germany is under mounting pressure from Asia in the realm of intellectual property. Growing competition from countries such as China and South Korea are increasingly putting Germany and Europe at a disadvantage.

The volume of future tech patents is particularly declining in Germany, according to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation published at the start of June.

In 2010, Germany was among the three countries with the most world-class patents in 47 out of 58 technologies, but its share has more than halved to just 22 technologies in 2019.

China, in particular, is catching up in the area of patent quality, as it now ranks among the top three countries with the best quality patents in 42 of 58 categories. In 2010, China did not rank in the top three patents for a single tech category.

Bertelmann Stiftung board member Brigitte Mohn has said that while Germany remains Europe’s strongest patent power, it cannot withstand Asian pressure alone, and called for Europe to establish a collective platform for innovation.

“A pan-European innovation platform, surrounded by a transnational ecosystem supported by government budgets and financial incentive systems, would be a clear sign to take innovation seriously as the basis for the future viability and sustainability of European economies and societies in their countries,” she said in a statement.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]


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