The planned European Research Council may never happen because European Union member states are refusing to pay for it, according to Philippe Busquin, commissioner for research at the European Commission.
At the launch of the EU's new Framework programme for research, which will run until 2006 and will cost €17.5 billion (£11.2 billion), Mr Busquin said: "The European Research Council is needed because there are now so many national systems for funding research.
"But it could turn into a new body with no money, and we have those already. The member nations are not willing to fund it because their research spending is linked to national education policies and national policy.
"Ideally, Europe would have something like the US National Science Foundation. But the NSF has the US science budget. If you ask science ministers to hand over their budgets, they will not. Science (is) not a priority."
The Sixth Framework programme is 17 per cent bigger than the fifth, making research the EU's longest budget item after agriculture and regional spending.
But Mr Busquin admitted that his bigger objective, to get member states to spend 3 per cent of their gross domestic product on research by 2010, was unlikely. He said: "The average now is only 1.9 per cent."
Mr Busquin is keen to increase national budgets because EU cash makes up only 6 per cent of research spending. The biggest increases in spending in the new programme are for measures designed to establish the European Research Area, Mr Busquin's scheme for a single research system across the EU.
There are significant increases in money for researcher mobility and for international collaboration. The EU is setting up an online system for mobile researchers. It will allow them to deal with issues such as childcare before they leave home.
Framework has been criticised because the commission does not pay full overheads on the research contracts it awards. Mr Busquin said: "We never pay the full costs because we always want our partners to join in."
But Mark Cross, pro vice-chancellor for research at Greenwich University, said: "The overheads we incur mean that it costs us money every time we win a Framework contract."