The 2013/01/29 at 08:37
Marie Luginsland, in Germany
2011 was a record year for German research and innovation, with 74.6 billion euros spent on R&D, including 50.3 billion by businesses. In this way, the latter reviewed their budgets upwards by 7.2 % in the space of one year. The State followed suit, increasing its R&D spending by 46 % to 13.6 billion euros between 2005 and 2011.
These investments have earned Germany the rank as Europe's number one in terms of research, alloting 2.9 % of its GDP to this domain, compared with an average of 2 % in the European Union. The share corresponding to businesses went up from 1.45 % of the GDP in 1995 to 1.94 % in 2011. In the absence of 2012 figures, surveys conducted by the DIHK, the federation of German CCIs, indicate an unstopped enthusiasm for innovation despite the crisis. Out of the 1,000 innovative enterprises, two-thirds of which are SMEs, surveyed at the end of 2012, 48 % have announced that they will be upping their R&D investments this year. While 47 % will be maintaining their 2012 levels, only 5 % will be reducing this aspect of activity.
This focus on R&D despite the crisis is not accidental. German enterprises are hoping, thanks to their R&D potential, to maintain the competitiveness of their exports, as well as sharpen up their resources to exit the crisis. This is how the machine tools and mechanical construction sectors will be keeping in their firing line the re-industrialisation-related takeoff of the US economy. In addition, the US continent is today the market representing the greatest hopes for German automobile manufacturers.
SMEs neglected by universities
In its analysis of the survey, the DIHK however points out a few obstacles. While 62 % of businesses were able to finance their innovation, in 2012, in conditions similar to those in preceding years, 32 % experienced difficulties in gathering necessary funds. They also expect external financing conditions to deteriorate this year. 18 % of the businesses surveyed even state an incapacity to find outside financial help. These difficulties in financing R&D are accentuated in the case of SMEs, 57 % of which declare that they rely exclusively on their own capital for the development of new technologies.
Paradoxically, as the DIHK reveals, businesses are largely unfamiliar with the State's policy in favour of research and innovation. Only 10 % of them are aware, for example, of the government's hi-tech strategy identifying ten promising project* for 2020.
Isolated in their innovation efforts, many businesses also deplore the lack of transparency in the world of research and the university arena. In this way, they experience difficulties in identifying research centres connected to their domain of activity. "Many universities don't yet consider technology transfer as their core activity, especially when it is a matter of cooperating with SMEs," regrets Hans Heinrich Driftmann, President of the DIHK. And yet, 38 % of the businesses surveyed declare that they wish for an intensification of their relationships with scientists.
Favourable political context
This desire amongst German enterprises to intensify their innovation whatever it takes corresponds to the image the country exudes internationally. The country's scientific, economic and legal context is considered extremely favourable by foreign company heads. In the 2012 Global Innovation Barometer carried out for General Electric (GE), the research and consulting firm Strategy One underlines the positive image enjoyed by Germany amongst 3,100 company heads from 25 different countries surveyed. Germany comes out second, just behind the United States, and even snatches off the pole position for its political framework, thought to be stimulating for innovation.
*These ten projects cover the domains of energy, health/nutrition, sustainable mobility, ID security and ICT.