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Spanish scientists ask for European intervention on national R&D policy

Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.

A group of high-profile scientific associations in Spain have asked the European Parliament to take action to stop the drastic cuts to science budgets in Spain and other countries. The Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE) and other organizations and unions made the request of Spanish members of the chamber in a letter sent last month.

The groups ask members of the European Parliament to create “a common research policy in Europe”. “The European Union is issuing recommendations on economic matters that governments take very seriously: we would like to hear recommendations on R&D [research and development] spending as well,” says Carlos Andradas, president of COSCE.

Andradas and other representatives of the signing organizations declared in a press conference on Tuesday in Madrid that they are not satisfied with the Spanish R&D budget for 2012, which includes a 25% cut to central government’s funding for science.

Spain did make an exception for science in its public-sector hiring freeze: public research organizations, such as the National Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), are allowed to hire one researcher for every ten who retire. However, hiring in universities will depend on the decisions of rectors and regional governments.

The final budget also creates an independent State Research Agency, which will award funding based on scientific criteria — one of the main requests of the Spanish scientific community. The agency will be set up by the end of the year and start work in 2013.

“These are good signals, but they are not enough”, says Andradas. “We would like to see whether the statute of the agency looks like that of the European Research Council, as we suggest, or rather like that of a section of the ministry,” says Andradas.

The defence of the R&D budget made by Carmen Vela, the secretary of state for research, in Nature last month sparked a storm of reactions, most of them critical, from scientists in Spain. “Slashing the budget is justified with fallacies: the system is oversized, we can do more with less, cuts mean investing on quality rather than quantity… In fact, excellence costs money and we will not reach it by shrinking investment,” says Andradas.

Because internal pressure has not been enough to change the budget, scientist are now seeking pressure from Europe, Andradas explains. His organization plans to set up events in autumn to ask for a U-turn in 2013 budget.

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    dante chialvo said:

    I believe that it is timely for scientists, in this case colleagues from Spain, to start actively lobbying against bureaucrats in time of economical crisis in a different way. The point I am trying to convey is the need to change our most usual view that “non-professional” labor unions (aka “workers”) are the battlefront in time like this. Many would agree that dismantling Spain last 30 years of R+D investment (which is in essence Rajoy’s plan consequences) will cost many more “workers” jobs than the ones that thousand strikes can achieve. Because of its consequences to the future of any other activity cuts in R+D budget should be at the top (and not at the bottom).

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