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Rethinking research security and German Science Year 2024

Germany's Science Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger recently raised concerns about the country’s approach to research security calling for a re-evaluation and a reassessment of the traditional divide between civilian and military research, citing escalating security threats, particularly concerning China. The shift in perspective, from a stance of openness to one of cautious collaboration, comes in response to global events such as the pandemic and escalating geopolitical tensions, and has been a point of discussion both on the EU and national levels. 

The impetus for this shift is multifaceted, with Stark-Watzinger emphasising the risk of technological dependence and the imperative for Germany to maintain its competitive edge in the global tech arena. Despite facing resistance, notably from universities with civil clauses, there is a growing discourse surrounding the integration of civilian and military research efforts. While Russia remains a focal point, the spotlight is increasingly on China, with concerns over past collaborations contributing to China's military advancements. 

Central to Stark-Watzinger's argument is the necessity of evaluating potential collaboration partners based on their values, transparency, and legal frameworks. However, the implementation of restrictive measures encounters challenges due to constitutional protections of academic freedom. Nevertheless, efforts are underway to deepen understanding of the Chinese research landscape to inform future collaboration decisions, underscoring the delicate balance between openness and security. 

Simultaneously, Germany is embarking on a celebration of freedom in science through the German Science Year 2024. Launched in Berlin on 17 January, this year's theme focuses on the value and significance of freedom within scientific pursuits. Dialogue lies at the heart of the year-long initiative, with an emphasis on fostering respectful debates and constructive democratic practices. 

The thematic choice for the German Science Year 2024 holds particular significance, coinciding with two pivotal anniversaries: 75 years since the enactment of the German Basic Constitutional Law and 35 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. These milestones serve to underscore the enduring importance of freedom, both within the scientific community and society at large.