Chapter 3: The German National Innovation System
3.1 Political framework conditions
One fundamental difference to the unitary polity Japan is the federal system in Germany.
Competences are not just divided between ministries and agencies, but also between the federal, regional and municipal levels. For this study, municipal policies will be described in the case studies only. It is critical to point out that municipalities do not hold significant regulative power concerning research, education or industrial policy. Their role is confined networking activities and setting impulses, i.e. in infrastructure development.
In comparison to Japanese prefectures the German regional states, called Bundesländer (or simply Länder) are far more independent. While prefectures do not have ministries, Länderdo.
They are implementing legislation often on behalf of the federal level. Like other federal polities, Germany is applying subsidiarity, i.e. that a matter ought to be executed by the least centralised authority that is capable of addressing it effectively, as its main organising principle.
Further, while there is only one Civil Service Law in Japan, each Land has a slightly different set of administrative rules. Moreover, German regional states have guaranteed access to tax revenue33 which makes them much more independent than prefectures whose access to funding is largely subject to central government’s discretion. These interwoven relations between the different levels are referred to as executive federalism (Exekutivföderalismus). “This system is a unique blend of “interlocking” policy formation, decentralization of policy implementation, and
“unitarization” of policy content.” (Lehmbruch 1997: 47) What Lehmbruch expresses with the term unitarisation is the tendency of political actors to establish uniformity to ensure equality among citizens irrespective of location. The main reason for this is Article 106 III 2 of the German Basic Law that postulates the “uniformity of living conditions”. Thus, despite federalism, German policians and bureaucrats have emphasised broad compromises to conform to this postulate. As will be discussed below, lately more elements of competition have entered the fedeal system, but the general tendency is still oriented towards consensus. The main organ that worked towards unitarisation is the Bundesrat, Germany’s second chamber that represents
33 Some taxes are exclusively going to the budget(s) of one of the three levels. However, there are taxes, most notably corporate, income and value-added tax, which are divided between the federal and the Länderlevel. Further the Länderhave to pass on a certain percentage to municipalities. For a detailed description of the subject, see: Renzsch 2010.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung; BMBF) today remains an important player in directing German innovation policy, but major changes adopted in 2005 can be seen as undermining that position.
However, before describing the change of 2005, it is necessary to highlight the former setting.
For a long time, education and science was institutionally separated from research and technology policy on the federal level. Initially, today’s BMBF was focussed on nuclear affairs and went through several reorganisations and designation changes. From 1969 it was labeled Federal Ministry of Education and Science (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Wissenschaft;
BMBW) and focussed on coordinating education policies of the federal states and supporting research through funding. However, from 1972 onward, the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (Bundesministerium für Forschung und Technologie, BMFT) existed parallel to BMBW. BMFT’s core competence was supporting basic and applied R&D as well as technology transfer from universities and institutes to industry. Hence, it can be stated that the German political system represented and partly promoted the specialisation and diversification of the science and research sector. The separation of spheres was partly overcome in 1994, when BMBW and BMFT were merged into BMBF.35
Moreover, as the regional states have to provide funding, they are often opposed to federal plans like establishing new university chairs. While the intention of such federal plans is strategically sensible, it is insensitive to states’ problems of actually being able to hire and pay staff.
Concerning universities36, according to the German Basic Law, the creation of universities and the maintenance of the buildings was the responsibility of the federal level while the Länder were in charge of the actual operation. This meant that they have had to pay the utility cost, academic staff and other personnel, and may decide to charge tuition fees up to an amount of € 500 per semester (plus administration fees). This system had several consequences: the federal level was involved, but the main actors for university operations were the Länder.
34 A number of institutions associated to the Bundesrat are organising inter-Länder negotiations.
Membership in these institutions is voluntary, not mandatory. Therefore, the decisions reached in negotiations have to be transformed into bills in each Land afterwards. Decisions are only made unanimous, which underlines the consensus orientation. In some cases, only Länder are members, in other cases the federal government is also represented, but lacks voting rights. An example for the former is the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs which coordinates education policy, an example for the latter is the Standing Conference of the Ministers of the Interior.
35 In comparison to Japan, changing the composition of ministries (Ressortzuschnitt), i.e. merging ministeries or transferring specific bureaux from one ministery to another is more common. While this structural instrument formally is a competence of the Chancellor, the political reality is that ministerial composition is subject to coalition arrangements (Ismayr 2003: 457). Thus, different compositions are outcomes of coalition negotiations and reflect policy preferences of ruling coalitions or coalition parties.
36 The German tertiary education system is basically operated by the state. Those universities which are counted as non-state operated are largely financed and managed through the Catholic or Protest Church, so that the actual number of non-institutional, private universities is even lower.
This situation, as well as other problems stemming from the divided competences and responsibilities in the German education and science system, caused calls for reform, meaning unifying responsibilities and competences at one level. Most citizens were in favour of federal jurisdiction to ensure a nationwide – hence equal – system. However, as the Länder were and are opposing loses in competences – equaling power and influence – reform resulted in full responsibility over university operation, including construction, for the regional level. This means that a major issue of divided competences has been overcome with the overhaul of 2005 (Tuner/Rowe 2013: 390). However, BMBF continues to play a role in tertiary education, because the Länderstill lack the necessary financial resources to realise desired projects on their own. This means that BMBF can continue to influence tertiary education through extra funding as well as through coordination and moderation. It could be said that BMBF utilises the structural financial weakness of the Länder as a backdoor to stay in tertiary education policy-making. Thus, it can be claimed that the rearrangement of the federal system and the distribution of competences between federal administration and Länderin 2005 was unable to fully resolve the topic education and that it is highly unlikely that the present situation will be reformed soon.
The major shift in German innovation policy in 2005 had further consequences: First, BMBF lost some competences through the federal reform to the Bundesländer, like the aforementioned shared responsibility for university construction. Second, the jurisdiction over IT, energy, transportation, nuclear, and space was shifted from BMBF to the economics ministry, which now was officially called Federal Ministry of Economy and Technology (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie; BMWi). Since BMBF has developed out of the former Federal Ministry for Nuclear Affairs (Bundesministerium für Atomfragen)37 and was established as a research and technology ministry in 1962, the loss of jurisdiction can be described as a crippling blow against the ministry in its former form. The nuclear and space departments were BMBF’s nuclei and shifting these competences to BMWi also affects innovation policy-making. In other words: “Since the identity of BMBF had been strongly shaped by the two large divisions for space and atomic energy, the loss of those two main pillars must indicate a fundamental change in the identity of the ministry.” (Weyer/Schneider 2012: 184) Reorganisation means that all strategic research sectors have been transferred to BMWi. This can be interpreted as creating a closer integration of industrial and research policy in these sectors, while leaving coordination in research fields that are regarded as non-strategic to a hollowed-out BMBF. From this perspective, research policy could be used to improve the competitiveness of certain industrial sectors by investing in R&D in related sciences.
37 Although the institutions developmed into different roles the genesis of both, BMBF and Japan’s STA, occurred in the context of civilian use of nuclear energy in Germany and Japan.
In comparison to Japan, the institutional changes in the German innovation system are subject to to parallel yet unrelated developments. First, changes occurred in the context of the reform of federalism. Education was only part of the overall reorganisation of federal and regional level relations. Main aim was not innovation or education but disentangling the interwoven relationship to clarify jurisdiction and decrease the veto power of the Länderon federal policies.
While this is a major administrative reform, this reorganiation lacked a clear direction: unlike in Japan, where reform adopted New Public Management (NPM) logic, i.e. oriented towards economic efficiency, the German administrative reform only followed that rationale to a minor degree as Bach and Jann found (2010: 463):
“The ideal-type NPM agency has not been a powerful model in Germany. In line with the dominating rule-of-law tradition, legality is the bureaucracy’s most important source of legitimacy, whereas efficiency and performance play only a secondary role. […] The regulatory reform discourse is, at least in Germany, much more important than the managerial one.”
The effect of the reform of German federalism on the NIS is similar to Japan’s administrative reform as it is occurring in a greater context, not a targeted reform effort. Second, the transfer of strategic research sectors from BMBF to BMWi must be characterised as an attempt to integrate economic and innovation policy more closely than before. Thus, this step is a conscious decision, not an indirect outcome. The case studies can possibly shed some light on the question if BMWi is assuming a more active role in linking research and economic policy in a strategic sector like future transportation. This question is important as the federal level did not practice sector-specific economic policies, i.e. industrial policy, but practiced a macroeconomic policy (see: 3.4). Hence, if BMWi would implement industrial policies, this would be a major shift in German economic and innovation policy-making. Also, it is clear that BMBF has to adopt a new role in innovation policy-making. Thus, the case studies could lead to some conclusions what this new role is.