Last month the ministers rejected a Belgian plan for a budget of $6.4 billion (5.8 billion ECU)151;a compromise between the $8.5 billion demanded by the European Commission and the $4.4 billion suggested by the three largest member states (Britain, France and West Germany). At stake is the future of the EEC's collaborative research program, known as Framework, which embraces such projects as Esprit (on information technology), Race (on telecommunications) and Brite (on other industrial technologies). Some 3,000 researchers throughout Europe are paid through Esprit, largest of these cooperative efforts.
Glyn Ford, a member of the European Parliament and former scientist, said hundreds of vital research projects are threatened by the inability of the 12 member nations to reach agreement. "The [low] cash limit being demanded by the British government is not one at which we can compete seriously with the Americans and the Japanese," declared Ford. "The disintegration of existing European research programs is imminent." The most conspicuous individual project at risk is JET (the Joint European Torus), a pioneering effort toward power generation via nuclear fusion. With further funds from Framework, the project is due to be supplanted soon by NET (the Next European Torus) as a prototype machine for the production of energy in the 21st century.
"If we nip R&D in the bud at this stage, then Europe's competitiveness in global markets will suffer," said Karl-Heinz Narges, the EEC vice-president and commissioner responsible for research. He added that domestic markets also will suffer without access to new and advanced technology.
British opposition to the Commission's plan is based in part on the Community's overall financial problems and in part on a lack of enthusiasm for cooperation on the scale envisaged by the Commission.