THE European Parliament is taking legal advice on whether it can force the European Commission to withdraw its modified plans for science research.
If the advice, due at the end of this week, says the parliament's research committee can force the withdrawal of the amended Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), then the drawing up of the new research programme could be delayed several months, it is claimed, hitting European-funded science projects.
The parliament's research committee is claiming that the commission neglected its amendments to FP5 when revising its original programme, adding that it will "under no circumstances accept the modified commission proposal".
The European Commission first put forward its plans for FP5 in the summer of 1996. The parliament tabled more than 700 amendments which were rationalised and agreed upon at a meeting in December. These included changing the number of thematic programmes from three to four and increasing the budget from Ecu 16.3 billion (Pounds 10.9 billion) to Ecu 16.7 billion.
The commission modified its original proposals this month, agreeing to increase the number of themes, but keeping the budget at Ecu 16.3 billion.
A spokesman for the parliament said: "The parliament's committee on research, technological development and energy vehemently criticised the European Commission at a meeting last week. They were very angry that the commission did almost nothing with their amendments."
The stumbling blocks are mostly financial, with the parliament and commission clashing on how much should be spent overall and in each area. A spokesman for the commission said it had considered all proposals and taken on board some very important points from the parliament. He added that the commission had also to take on board the view of the Council of Ministers which may differ from the parliament.
The Council of Ministers, which must also accept the commission's proposals, meets to discuss its position on February 12. Some ministers are thought to want to see the budget reduced, rather than increased as favoured by the parliament, so problems could occur here too.
On Tuesday, John Battle, Britain's science minister and president-in-office for research during the UK's European presidency, will meet the parliament's research committee to discuss the situation.