GERMANY: Education summit a 'black day'

Germany's Education and Science Union has called an education summit in Berlin a "black day for education". The meeting between the heads of state governments and the federal government, led by Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel, failed to reach an agreement on funding additional investment in education and research.

"With their squabbling over the distribution of funding, the federal and state governments are jeopardising Germany's whole future. We need more and better education to emerge from the crisis in a healthy state," said union board chair Ulrich Thöne in Frankfurt am Main.

"If the non-results of this education summit show anything, it's that doing more for education requires an increase in tax revenue. Budgets have to be restructured in favour of education if any percentage increases of education are to be achieved," said Thöne.

Merkel said there was still disagreement on more funding for the state governments by the federal government. At the first education summit in 2008, the federal and state governments agreed to raise expenditure of education and research to 10 % of gross domestic product by 2015.

But, given the current budget crisis, the federal states see little scope for additional spending. According to Rhineland-Palatinate's Chief Minister Kurt Beck, a Social Democrat, all the states believe it will be "difficult or impossible to achieve" the 10% target.

Last December, the federal government promised the state governments it would contribute to bridging 40% of the remaining gap of EUR13 billion (US$16 billion) with EUR5.2 billion. But state government heads want more than 40% and there is cross-party agreement among the heads they need a greater share of revenue from value added tax.

"The state and local governments bear the brunt of education expenditure. Funding has to be distributed in a manner ensuring that they can cope with this burden," Thöne said. "The pledges made by the federal government in December have not been met."

Worse still, the summit outcome makes a mockery of the solemn pledge by Merkel's administration to save education and research from the drastic cuts that the welfare system is about to suffer. This was a pledge made despite the junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, initially insisting on tax cuts although they have now had to back down, proclaiming there be no tax increases.

In contrast, Thöne of the Education and Science Union sees raising the top rate of income tax, reintroducing a wealth tax and a consistent death duty on business assets as a way to provide more money for education and research.