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EU funding petition finds support

Almost 17,000 researchers call on EU governments to put their money where their mouth is on research

By | July 20, 2005

A petition insisting that EU governments live up to their promises to significantly increase research funding has garnered almost 17,000 signatories since Frank Gannon, the director of the European Molecular Biology Organization, began to circulate it last month.

"We, the undersigned scientists, call on the political leaders in Europe to match their words on research, the knowledge-based economy and the Lisbon Agreement by ensuring a very significant increase in the budget for the Seventh Framework Programme," the online petition says. "For the economic future of European citizens, investment in research cannot be relegated to an option that can be discarded."

The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the European Life Sciences Forum (ELSF) organized the petition after talks on the EU science budget for the period from 2007 to 2013 collapsed in June, sparking fears of stagnating research budgets.

"The governments keep saying that they support research efforts in Europe, and that the future of Europe is based on science and technology, but research was the first thing to be considered for cuts," Gannon told The Scientist. "How does anyone know what scientists say or do or think about this? This petition offers scientists a chance to express their views."

Gannon said he was surprised by the response to the petition, news of which has spread largely through word of mouth. "It was difficult to know how to go about even publicizing a petition like this," he said.

EMBO has brought together several European lobbying movements in recent times, including the Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE), a group of 50 European science organizations that was instrumental in the establishment of a European Research Council.

"Scientists have found there is no good location in Europe to discuss science policy," Gannon noted. "The EMBO is in a position to organize these kinds of movements because we deliver programs every day, unlike many scientific organizations that might meet only once a year."

Gannon said the current petition could form the embryo of a new European scientific movement, but said it was very difficult to coordinate a protest among Europe's many scientific organizations.

"There is a parallel in the French movement Let's Save Research (Sauvons la Recherche) where the scientific community organized itself on a national level in France to protest against government spending cuts," he said. "It is an ongoing process. It's not just protesting, but more about making constructive suggestions."

In September last year, a separate petition from the European Life Scientist Organization gathered 4,000 signatures and was delivered to research ministries in a call for improved conditions for science in Europe.

This year, scientists flocked to sign the new EMBO petition when it was posted online after talks on the overall European budget ended badly on June 2. Gannon said that the current talks under the UK presidency on the EU research budget would be crucial for Europe.

"The UK government is saying the right things. At least, they are aware of the importance research, so in theory the ministers will make the best effort. Cuts, though, will be inevitable if no more money enters the system and there does not seem to be any sign that it will," he said.

Antonia Mochan, European Commission spokeswoman on science and research, told The Scientist that there was no sign of a breakthrough in budget talks yet.

"We have made a case for investment in knowledge and technology in Europe. A large number of scientists support this," she told The Scientist. "If the scientists want to organize themselves more formally into a lobby, it is their decision, and we will work with them."

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