Danes squabble over research

March 1, 1996

A disagreement among the parties forming Denmark's coalition government has slowed down work on reshaping research.

Research minister Frank Jensen had proposed a bill to reduce the six single discipline state research councils to three inter-disciplinary units: natural sciences and technology in one; biotechnology and health sciences in a second; and the arts and the social sciences in a third. This structure would have given them more financial clout.

But the Radical Liberals, a social-liberal minority partner in the government, decided to filibuster the bill following opposition from universities, researchers and organisations in the arts and the social sciences which believe that the two areas cannot be mixed.

As a compromise Mr Jensen first decided to include four research councils in the bill when tabled. But he decided to revert to six in the bill, which became law late last month.

"There was no majority for four councils," said Mr Jensen. "But there is a large majority for three - apart from the Radical Liberals."

Sonja Mikkelsen, research spokeswoman for the Social Democrats, the coalition's majority party, said she was "dumbfounded by the decision of the Radical Liberals to veto a proposal that had broad backing".

Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen, the Radical Liberals' research spokeswoman, had not even come to the meetings of the research committee of the Danish parliament to listen to the arguments, she said.

The Radical Liberals have put forward no clear scheme of their own but want a structure that will ensure interdisciplinary and pan-institutional co-operation.

The new law calls for the establishment of a nine-member Danish Research Council, an umbrella organisation which will be asked to consider ways of restructuring the state research councils. The council must report to the research minister by October and a new round of negotiations will then start.

Although this means Mr Jenson's plans for restructuring the research advisory system are bogged down, work on defining Denmark's new research strategy continues.

The ministry of research has released a report from 13 working groups that have defined society's need for research as part of the strategy formulation.

Mr Jensen says that the report "contains analyses of the technological, human and social challenges that we will face beyond the year 2000.

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