• European Parliament warned over research budget cuts

    Katie Mantell

The European Parliament has voted to approve a reorganisation of research funding by the European Union that could, according to French aid officials, lead to a significant cut in European funding for international cooperation in scientific research.

Officials of France’s Institute of Research for Development (IRD) and the Centre for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) last week failed in a bid to persuade the parliament to reject proposals for such a change, which had been approved in October by a parliamentary committee.

The committee’s proposal formed part of its recommendations on the Sixth Research Framework Programme, which covers the European Union’s (EU) research and development spending for the period 2002-2006. These focussed in particular on reorganising the way that the research funds will be allocated — and would mean eliminating a special category for funding for international research.

In a letter to members of the European Parliament, the IRD and CIRAD asked the parliament to reject the proposals, saying, “This decision is very worrying to the European scientific community, which devotes its time to reducing international inequalities through scientific partnerships”.

The parliament, however, ignored these pleas, and voted last Wednesday to endorse the committee’s recommendations.

Previous Framework programmes — including the current Fifth Framework programme — have allocated funds to provide bursaries to young researchers in developing countries and to encourage joint research between European and non-European scientists. It has also financed research into topics of particular relevance to the developing world, such as tropical diseases.

In its initial proposals for the new Framework Programme, the commission had proposed that €600 million be allocated for ‘international cooperation’.

However, the parliament’s Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy decided in October to propose that the Programme should be restructured. Part of this involved removing the section of the new Framework programme on ‘international cooperation’.

According to the IRD — the French agency for research into humans and the environment in the tropics and the Mediterranean — the result will be that rather than €600 million being allocated to ‘international cooperation’, as originally proposed, the programme will only allocate €100 million for ‘international activities’ as part of the ‘human resources’ budget.

IRD officials are concerned that these funds will be limited to supporting non-European researchers coming come to Europe, and will not be available — as in previous research programmes — to support research on scientific topics specific to the needs of developing countries.

“At a time when Europe must show its solidarity with all people, this decision is politically incomprehensible,” they say.

But officials in Brussels deny that, even under the reorganisation of the Framework Programme now proposed by the European Parliament, there will in fact be any cut in funds for developing countries. They say that the specific budget and exact content of activities for developing countries are still under discussion.

“People may feel that because there is no specific programme [for international cooperation] anymore, the visibility or political support for these activities is lower,” says Michel Claessens of the European Commission research directorate. “I understand that. But to say that funding is being cut is not true.”

But the wrangle over the allocation of the programme’s total funds of €17.5 billion is not over yet. The European Council, which is made up of representatives of the member states of the European Union, must approve the budget — and could reject the parliament’s revision of the commission’s proposals. A final decision is not expected until mid-2002.

© SciDev.Net 2001

See also:

European Parliament Homepage
The European Union online
Research Framework Programme