Three prominent UK-based academics have been appointed to help lead the new European Research Council, proposed as part of Framework 7, the next European research funding round.
Sir Bob May, president of the Royal Society, Wendy Hall, head of Southampton University's School of Electronics and Computer Science, and Fotis Kafatos, chair of immunogenetics at Imperial College London, were this week named by the European Commission as members of the 22-strong council, which will fund basic research projects across Europe.
The council is designed to be an independent body representing the interests of science and research at the highest level. It will set Europe's scientific strategy and fund basic research.
The announcement came after European finance ministers last week proposed to cut the planned European Union budget in 2006 by €1.15 billion (£796 million),with the research budget reduced by €429 million.
A spokesperson for the UK Treasury said the cuts followed research funding surpluses. "There's continually been a surplus. It's not a case of cutting spending on research programmes."
In 2005, the Commission underspent on research by €138 million, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Janez Potocnik, the EU research commissioner, warned that there was a worrying downward trend in research and development investment and innovation across Europe.
He said Europe was likely to miss the objective it set itself to boost spending on research and development from 1.9 per cent to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2010.
The 2005 figures show that EU research and development investment is close to stagnation. Investment growth slowed since 2000, and grew 0.2 per cent between 2002 and 2003.