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The institute was founded by Fritz Karl Mann in 1927. It was initially called “Institute for International Finance” and mainly dealt with the reparations problems of the German Empire. Within short time, the work expanded to general questions of public revenue and expenditure and the institute was renamed “Research Institute for Public Economics”. A series of generous endowments ensured the rapid development and expansion of the independent financial research.

In 1936 this development came to a halt. Fritz Karl Mann was forced into exile in America by the anti-Semitic persecutions in Germany. Consequently the Department of Finance at the University of Cologne was closed. The institute was officially not affected; however its activities subsided considerably. The war and the postwar period almost completely stopped the research.

On February 14 1949 a group of dedicated representatives from industry, banks, associations and public administration founded the public benefit Society for the Advancement of Research in Public Finance as a patron as well as legal and financial support of the Institute. After the University of Cologne accepted the statute, the institute received its present name “Institute for Public Economics at the University of Cologne” and continued research under the leadership of Günter Schmölders.

His successor Karl-Heinrich Hansmeyer, who headed the FiFo from 1972 until 1993 as a managing director, extended the fields of research. In addition to the traditional topics (taxes, government spending, and regional policy) the FiFo became one of the first German research institutes dedicated to the “new” field of environmental economics. It has evolved to be the “second pillar” of the FiFo research and consulting.

From 1993 until 1998 Klaus Mackscheidt was the managing director of the FiFo, followed by Wolfgang Kitterer.

On December 6 2002, the FiFo celebrated its 75th founding anniversary. The board of the Society for the Advancement of Research in Public Finance and the directors of the Institute hosted a symposium on “Municipal Fiscal and Financial Reform”.

Clemes Fuest became the managing director in 2005. He directed the focus of the Institute towards a modern approach to fiscal research as well as questions of fiscal federalism and the qualitative and quantitative sustainability of fiscal policy.

With the appointment of Prof. Dr. Bierbrauer at the Department of Finance at the University of Cologne in 2011 he was subsequently named director of the FiFo. Due to the election of Prof. Dr. Ludwig - Professor of Macroeconomics at the University of Cologne - as director in July 2012 the board of the FiFo was extended by one member.