How might the next election change science? – An overview of the ideas for scientific research that German political parties aim at

Image from, Supplier PetraD.
Image from, Supplier PetraD.

The next federal election in Germany takes place on the 26th of September. While the public discussion is mainly dealing with the political parties’ opinions on the climate crisis, economy, and national safety, I think that their stand on scientific research is missing. It is clear that all political parties want to encourage scientific research on topics like energy production, agriculture, mobility and AI, but what is the road they want to take to achieve these goals? Where do their policies differ? What is their political stance on biomedical research if they have any at all? That’s why I looked into their electoral programmes and summarised their proposals on scientific research for you.

Christliche Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) / Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU)

The parties Christliche Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) and Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU) form the largest political faction in the German federal parliament. This alliance has had the chancellor seat for the past 16 years. They want to create with “Horizon Europe” the “biggest and most ambitious research programme in the European history”, paving the way for more interdisciplinarity, cooperation and recruitment of international experts. They want Germany to become the “Pharmacy of the World”, e.g., through investments in drug research on antibiotics and vaccines. A European health union should be created to better understand and treat diseases that challenge the health system, like Alzheimer’s Disease, HIV and cancer. Their idea of scientific research is very economic-related. Companies should have tax advantages if they spend money for research and universities should transfer their research results into market-orientated strategies. A national agency for biomedical research and development should improve these strategies and a Bio-IT centre should improve personalized medicine by bringing together scientists and economic partners. All this knowledge should be protected against investors from abroad. The CDU plans to continue the excellence strategy, which funds excellence clusters at German universities, and expand funding for the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Altogether total funding for research should reach 3.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. They want to increase the attractivity of research positions and start a senior research programme to maintain retired researchers in science. The regions where coal mining took place in the past years shall become new leader regions for research. Furthermore, they want to achieve the goal of positioning at least one German university among the world’s top 20 universities.

Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD)

The party Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) is the second biggest faction in the German parliament and the CDU’s governing partner for the last 8 years. As the name implies, the SPD is a social democratic party. Scientific research is not the main focus of their electoral programme however, most of their ideas overlap with the CDU even if they do not comment on their scientific policies in detail. They want to fund research with 3.5% of the GDP by 2025 and establish the European Health Union. The SPD is more precise on how to increase the working conditions of scientists: They want to pay PhD students with 100% contracts, hire less scientists on limited positions and create more tenure track and postdoc positions. They also want to spend more money on science communication and support open science. One research area of focus would be personalised medicine which addresses the influence of age and sex on treatments. Similar to the CDU, their research policy is market-oriented and supports research transfer into start-up companies.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

Following the CDU and SPD, the green party is the third party that hopes to be elected into the biggest faction and to provide the future chancellor. Bündnis 90/Die Grünen focuses mostly on climate politics and social justice. They have the unique claim of protecting living organisms and genetic variants from patent rights. They also want to fund science by 2025 with 3.5% of the GDP and combine European efforts, e.g., by an European cloud for sharing data and expertise between universities and countries. The basic funding of research at universities should be increased to reduce their dependence on third-party funding. Third-party funding itself should cover more than three years and the real costs of the research projects. In addition, funding should be coupled to sustainability principles. They want to further increase the excellence strategy, which funds excellence clusters at German universities. The party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen demands open access to all data and published literature, these data should meet the FAIR data principles: findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability. They want to encourage science for the general public with projects like citizen science and enforce science communication. Another unique demand of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen is the inclusion of scientific expertise in the legislation. Research areas of focus would be gender-sensitive treatments, antibiotics, antiviral drugs and therapy options of cannabis. According to the party Büdnis 90/Die Grünen, scientific research shall support the start-up culture in Germany and lead to a faster translation of knowledge into practice. The party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen party also strongly demand a clear strategy against animal experiments.

Die Linke

The party Die Linke is the most left party in the German federal parliament. Compared to the party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, they want an even stricter policy to stop animal experiments. Heavy burden animal experiments shall be forbidden immediately. Just animal-free projects shall be funded. They demand a higher basic funding for universities to decouple scientific research from third party funding. If companies fund research, this should be made transparent. The party Die Linke sees scientific research as common property and wants to strengthen public research to reduce the influence of big pharma companies. They demand to end patent protection of drugs and vaccines. The public should have a higher influence on research programmes, but a certain quota of all research has to be basic research. The party Die Linke wants all studies to be available via open access to encourage critical and pluralistic opinions. Potential research topics are Covid-19, gender-sensitive treatments, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. But only research on peaceful topics would be allowed, e.g. no research to improve weapons should be allowed. Die Linke’s electorate programme is most precise on the working conditions: PhD students should be on 100% contracts, less limited contracts should be signed, more staff should be recruited solely for teaching purposes and in the administration of universities. They want more unlimited postdoc positions, a 50% quota of women and every university staff should be in collective agreement contracts, including student assistants (SHKs).

Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP)

The party Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) is a libertarian party focusing on economics and freedom, both strongly influencing their policies on science. They propose that companies doing research should have tax advantages, start-ups should receive funds with less bureaucratic burden, research should be free from restrictions including the cancel culture, meaning that researches who are e.g. presently unpopular in the news should not fear negative consequences for their position, and they want an ethical self-control instead of prohibitions. In their opinion, the future of scientific research is tightly coupled to digitalization. An important topic is cybersecurity. Teaching should be digital, e.g. by funding of the European digital university (EDU), an association of eLearning courses of universities from all over Europe. They want to diversify research centres by employing more women and disabled persons; one way to do so might be to increase the compatibility of job and family. Research areas of interest would be gene therapy and regenerative medicine and they should be addressed by start ups which are in close contact to the federal health system. The FDP demands that institutes funded by China should not be co-founded by the federal state.

Alternative Für Deutschland (AFD)

The party Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) is the newest and most conservative party in the German federal parliament. Their ideas largely differ from the other parties: Instead of competence-oriented teaching, schools and universities should come back to subject sciences. This means that they do not want students to develop soft skills, but rather want them to have fostered textbook knowledge about a certain topic. In their eyes, the Bologna reform decreased the educational standard in Germany. Therefore, the AFD wants to stop the Bachelor/Master-system and return to the former Diploma-system to desynchronize the teaching standards from Europe and strengthen the German educational system. They want to fund innovations in MINT-subjects with their “Blue Deal”, a funding programme based on economic development. Part of this should be a higher basic funding of universities to reduce the dependence on third party financing. The AFD lists what aspects of research they want to stop: gender studies, gender quotas and the influence of China on the German educational system. They claim to protect research against political correctness.

Other parties

Those are the positions of the biggest German political parties. Of course, there are also various other political parties with futuristic plans for scientific research, e.g., the pan-European party VOLT wants to construct a research station on the Mars by 2040, or the pirates party, which aims at providing all educational and scientific material via open access and plans to digitalize every textbook in university libraries within 5-10 years. As 39 political parties are running for election – and time as PhD student is busy enough – listing all of them would take too long. To conclude, whichever party you might prefer, I encourage you to please go to vote on the 26th of September.

Author: Tobias Blum