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EU parliament backs embryo research

European politicians also vote to increase budget, but amount falls short of requests by the European Commission

By | June 16, 2006

European politicians voted on Thursday (June 15) to spend a larger proportion of the European Union?s budget on science, and resisted efforts from some countries to enforce a ban on funding embryonic stem cell research. In the latest stage of the ongoing approval process for Europe's 2007 to 2013 research budget, the European Parliament endorsed a legislative report that would see the overall allocation for the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) rise to roughly ?50bn. (FP6, which ran from 2002-2006, had a total budget of ?17.5bn.) This represents a major increase on the current budget, but falls significantly short of the roughly ?70bn that the European Commission had asked for two years ago. Politicians from across the EU described the amount as disappointing. "This is not our dream budget," Poland's Jerzy Buzek, who led the Parliament's review, told the parliament. The gradual whittling of the budget is a disappointment to the biotech industry too, said Adeline Farrelly, spokeswoman for EuropaBio. "Our position has been that we need to have as much as possible in FP7," she told The Scientist. The industry group is also worried that the process of getting hold of that money will be too complex, she added. "The budget is one thing, but the administration is another. We're very concerned that if the program is too difficult to access then industry will be put off using it." In the Parliament, controversy flared when debate turned to the issue of whether the EU should fund stem cell research. Some countries had wanted a ban on financing any research using embryos or embryonic stem cells through FP7. Others had suggested that financing should be limited to research on cells created before 2004. But amendments making both those demands were defeated. Instead, the Parliament took the lead of its Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, and agreed that research on the use of human stem cells, both adult and embryonic, can be financed -- but remains dependent on the scientific proposal and the legal framework of the Member states involved. In another key element of Parliament's decision, the politicians said they wanted the new European Research Council (ERC) -- which is going to fund fundamental, investigator-driven research -- to be completely autonomous from the EU. They asked the European Commission to present a proposal to Parliament and the European Council, to "implement the ERC as a permanent, legally independent structure." They also said they want an independent review to be carried out of the ERC in 2008, and for its administrative and staffing costs to be capped at 3% of the annual ERC budget. Europe's commissioner for research, Janez Potocnik, welcomed the Parliament's vote. "It's very encouraging that the Commission, the Parliament and the Council have been able to work so constructively on this," his spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told The Scientist. Earlier in the year, the commissioner was worried that various delays and hold-ups would mean a final decision wouldn't be reached by 2007. Things are looking more positive now, Mochan said: "It's not going to be easy, but it should be possible," she said. Between now and the end of the year, the budget needs to gain political approval from national ministers in the European Council, after which it will return to the parliament for a second reading. Stephen Pincock spincock@the-scientist.com Links within this article Research RTD, 7th EC framework programme 2007-2013: research, technological development and demonstration activities http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/file.jsp?id=5243902 S. Pincock, "EU proposes science shake-up," The Scientist, June 16, 2004. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22230/ "European Parliament debates FP7," Cordis, June 14, 2006. http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=FP7_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=EN_RCN_ID:25816 N. Stafford, "EU stem cell funding in jeopardy?" The Scientist, March 28, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23252/ Committee on Industry, Research and Energy http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/itre_home_en.htm S. Pincock, "Who will head the ERC?" The Scientist, May 28, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23498/ S. Pincock, "EU promises funding deal," The Scientist, February 2, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23036/
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