The development and significance of think tanks in Germany.

VerfasserThunert, Martin W.


Think Tanks are players in an increasingly diverse world of policy advise-giving organizations and political consultancies, which has emerged in Germany during the past two decades. This article uses the term 'think tank' in its broadest sense - that is, non-profit private and public organizations devoted to examining and analyzing policy-relevant issues, and producing research outputs in terms of publications, reports, lectures, and workshops, in most cases targeted to identifiable audiences with the hope of influencing decision-making and public opinion(1). The article tries to combine the approaches of the two "schools" of think tank research in contemporary social science (see Stone 2004: 1-2):the first approach and henceforth the first part of this article focuses on the different types of German think tanks and their organizational ingredients by looking at issues such as think tank management, funding, staffing and strategies. The second "school" and the second part of the paper cut to the central issue of the policy influence and the political impact of think tanks in Germany.

The German Think Tank Sector: An Organizational Overview

The German think tank sector is characterized by a large number of organizations and researchers, scattered across the country. Estimates of the number of think tanks operating in Germany vary, ranging between 70 and 100 institutions (see Day 2000). If one broadens the definition to also include various church-sponsored academies (which sometimes serve as part-time think tanks), operating foundations or university research centres, the number may even exceed 1002.

More than half of the German policy research institutes were founded in the last quarter of the 20th century, although a large proportion of the largest and best-funded think tanks date from pre-1975. Compared to other countries - especially to the United States and Britain - the percentage of publicly financed think tanks is very high, and ranges around 75%. There are about a dozen large non-university institutes that have annual budgets of Euro$ 5 to $ 14 million and employ between thirty and eighty research staff. With the exception of a very few private operating foundations such as the Bertelsmann Foundation, these larger institutes receive funding from the federal government or the Lander, joint funding from both levels of government as well as from research bodies such as the Max Planck Society or the Fraunhofer Society. Contract research is an important funding source for 45% of German think tanks, but it is difficult to separate contract research institutes from academic think tanks. The important role of state governments as sponsors and financiers of think tanks reflects Germany's federal structure.

Typology of German Think Tanks

By and large, the German think tank landscape fits into the mould of international think tank typologies (Weaver and McGann 2000), although the sector of private and advocacy-oriented policy research institutes is less developed than in Anglo-American countries. It is also sometimes hard to distinguish between research-oriented academic think tanks on the one hand and institutions of basic research touching on policy-relevant questions on the other. It has proven quite difficult, if not impossible for members of this diverse group of think tanks to recognize that they may belong to a clearly identifiable community. Table 1 provides a breakdown of think tank types in Germany.

Table 1 Types of think tanks in Germany (as percentage of 93 think tanks) Academic Think Tanks 75% Advocacy Institutes 20% Party Think Tanks 5% Generally speaking, German think tanks are post-World War II creations. Less than 10% of German think tanks date back to the Weimar Republic or even to Imperial Germany.Four of the six large economic research institutes, the HWWA Hamburg (1908), the Kiel Institute of World Economics (IfW) (1914) and the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin (DIW) (1925) as well as its western branch, the Essen-based Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research (RWI) (1926) were post-war relaunches of previously existing institutes.A few other bodies, the Economic and Social Science Institute (WSI) of the German Federation of Trade Unions(DGB) or the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, close to the Social Democratic Party and named after the first president of the Weimar Republic, had forerunner institutes prior to the Nazi period. 40% of today's think tanks were founded between 1945 and 1975, nearly 50% were founded over the past 30 years since 1975.

Academic Think Tanks.

Academic think tanks are by far the largest group of think tanks in Germany.This group can be divided into the following sub-groups:

Created by government, but working independently within public sector guidelines. Non-university institutes (mostly Leibniz-Society Institutes) University-affiliated centers of applied policy-relevant research Academic think tanks with considerable private funding. Government created institutes: The federal government created several ministerial think tanks (Ressortforschungseinrichtungen) and a number of quasi-independent institutes of which the SWP - German Institute for International Affairs and Security is by far the largest.Between the 1970s and the 1990s, state governments became important sponsors of academic think tanks - particularly in the fields of peace and conflict research, environment and technology and economic research.

Leibniz - Institutes: The largest group of academic think tanks are the so-called "Leibniz-institutes3.Among this diverse group of more than 50 non-university research institutes, most of which receive joint financial assistance from the federal government and the states on a fifty-fifty basis, about a dozen institutes undertake applied policy research. The most visible institutes among this group are six large economic research institutes with a combined staff of more than 400 economic researchers. The joint funding of these economic think tanks through the national and state governments not only reflects Germany's federal structure, but also expresses the desire to encourage competing views on economic policy and on Germany's economic development. Twice annually, experts of these six economic research institutes issue a Common Report predicting the short- and medium-term performance of the German economy. The six expert institutes are meant to arrive at joint conclusions, but the opportunity to express dissenting views in the form of minority opinions is given. The Common Report receives the attention of the media as well as of the government, the Bundesbank, interest groups, and other actors in the economic policy community. It influences public debate about the legitimacy of government economic policy more than it influences policy decisions.

Other Leibniz-Society institutes that conduct policy relevant researchinclude the Science Center Berlin for Social Research (WZB), which was founded in 1969 at the supra-partisan initiative of federal members of parliament and was inspired by the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), an umbrella organization that incorporates a group of Hamburg-based area-studies institutes with an expertise on Asia, the Middle East. Africa and Latin America. Most member-institutes of other scientific associations such as the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, are too devoted to long-term, basic research to be regarded as policy-oriented think tanks. Among the notable exceptions are individual researchers and research units at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, at the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim, or at the Fraunhofer-Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in Karlsruhe.

University affiliated think tanks:Many German think tanks are affiliated with universities or operate in a semi-academic environment. With a staff of more than 50 researchers the Center for Applied Policy Research (C.A.P.) at the University of Munich is one of the largest institutes of its kind. C.A.P. is somewhat unusual for a university-based research institute as it draws a substantial amount of its core funding from governmental (European Union) and from private sources (e.g. the German Marshall Fund and the Bertelsmann Foundation). In other cases, it is not easy to draw a line between academic research and policy-oriented work. Notable additions to the field of university-affiliated academic think tanks are the Institute for Development and Peace at the University of Duisburg - inspired by the Worldwatch Institute, the Munich-based Center for Economic Studies (CES), which operates as the academic arm of the IFO-Institute, the Center for European Integration Research (ZEI) and the Center for Development Research (ZEF) in Bonn. Founded in the mid 1990s, the latter two academic think tanks received substantial government grants to compensate Bonn for the loss of its status as Germany's capital.

Privately financed academic institutes: There are at least two major exceptions to the rule of government-created and publicly financed academic think tanks in Germany. One is the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) modeled as an elite network-cum research institute on the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.The second major exception is the Bertelsmann Foundation (BF), which was founded in 1977 at the seat of its parent corporation Bertelsmann AG in Gutersloh. Ever since the 1990s Bertelsmann Foundation and some of its subsidiaries like the Center for Higher Education Research (CHE) emerged as heavyweight players in privately funded policy research with resources matching or exceeding those of the largest government- funded institutes.

Finally, while having a more limited research capacity than the Bertelsmann...

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