Less than a year after French President Jacques Chirac hailed Quaero as Europe's answer to the challenge posed by "American giants Google and Yahoo," the ambitious project seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Germany will now work on its own search engine program named Theseus after a legendary Greek hero who found his way out of the labyrinth of the monster Minotaur.
"We will still see cooperation, but in another form, such as work groups," Hendrik Luchtmeier, a spokesman for Germany's economics ministry, told IDG news service. "The consortium between the German and French governments is over."
Division of labor
But Hendrik Speck, a professor of digital media at the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern, described the move as a division of labor.
"France is concentrating more on developing a search engine while the German project promotes innovative core technologies," he said.
Luchtmeier declined to comment on the reasons why Germany had decided to drop the joint venture, according to IDG. But he said that unlike Quaero, Theseus would not actually work on developing a search engine and instead back companies and organizations that conduct research in areas including search-technology research and advanced communication networks.
Luchtmeier did not say how much money Germany will set aside for the project, but the government announced Monday that it will set aside 1.2 billion euros ($1.57 billion).
While the German effort might still pale in comparison to the huge research funds available at Google, experts said that it was important to take a first step.
"It doesn't take a lot of money to set up a know-how infrastructure that's missing in Germany," said Wolfgang Sander-Beuermann, the head of the search-engine research lab at the University of Hanover.
He agreed with Speck that the two separate projects were still viable and could even produce better results than a joint venture. Sander-Beuermann also added that disagreements between companies involved in the Franco-German cooperation might have played a role in the split.
"It could be that the partners were fighting and decided that it's better if each side does their own thing," he said. "It might have been similar to the situation at (European plane maker) Airbus."
The important thing, Sander-Beuermann added, is that Europe gets going in developing search-engine technology.
"It's not too late to catch up," he said. "But it will be soon, if nothing changes."