EEC Budget at Impasse

LONDON—"Agriculture has a lobby. Research and development does not."

By | January 12, 1987

LONDON—"Agriculture has a lobby. Research and development does not."

That comment last month from Karl-Heinz Narjes, vice president of the European Economic Community, summarized the problems facing the 12 nations in the Community as they struggled to agree on a new budget for collaborative research during the next five years.

West Germany, France and Britain, joined in December by the Netherlands, have been calling for a major reduction in the European Commission's ambitious proposal for a budget of $7.95 billion for the period 1987-1991. They argue that the amount is unrealistically high in light of the overall financial crisis caused by the Community's agricultural policy. Smaller EEC partners have supported the plan, which they see as a way to benefit from collaborative projects that would be too costly and complex for them to pursue alone.

These budget squabbles have made increasingly uncertain the future of three major projects: Esprit, a program of information technology research linking universities and industry across European frontiers; Brite, a similarly multinational effort to revitalize traditional industries with automation and other novel technologies; and Race, a program to bring advanced telecommunications, with common standards, to the whole of Western Europe. Funds for Race, in fact, were expected to dry up at the end of December.

The critics of the large increase in research spending, in addition to being acutely aware of the Community's overall budget crisis, are worried about their countries' receiving less in return than they have contributed. Espnit, a 10-year effort begun in 1984, has been universally welcome. More than 3,000 researchers are being supported within such companies as Siemens in West Germany and GEC in Britain. The third generation of Cray supercomputers, made in the United States, will contain a gallium arsenide chip developed under Esprit.

But other programs have provoked dissension. West Germany, for example, was unenthusiastic at first about Race on the grounds that it covered an area in which Siemens enjoyed a lead over its competitors. In recent months, however, its opposition has softened. There also has been horse-trading among smaller countries willing to accept cuts in major projects such as Race and Esprit in return for full support by the Community of projects expected to benefit them more directly.

In a last-ditch attempt December 9 to square the circle, Nadjes put forward a three-year plan for a $3.7 billion budget. The plan has since been withdrawn and a meeting for December 22 was cancelled. This month Belgium takes over the chairmanship of the Community's Council of Ministers and, with it, responsibility for reaching an agreement.

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