The European Parliament is squaring up for a new battle over research funding following a ministers' agreement to cut the Framework budget.
Members of the Council of Research Ministers agreed last week on a Fifth Framework Programme budget of Ecu 14 billion (about Pounds 10 billion): Ecu 2.7 billion less than the parliament had proposed and less in real terms than the Fourth Framework's budget.
Funding proposals from the ministers and the parliament are now so far apart that some fear it may take months to agree a figure.
Edith Cresson, the commissioner for research, innovation, education, training and youth, condemned the ministers' agreement, which will almost certainly be contested by the parliament, as "a dark day for European research".
She said: "At a time when we must increase our research commitment to ensure our economic development, meet the needs of our citizens and improve our ability to create employment, this is a most unfortunate and negative signal to European research and industry."
The commission warned that Ecu 969 million earmarked for the Joint Research Centre, which has research institutes in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, was "below the operational threshold". Hugh Richardson, JRC director general, told The THES that one of the institutes might have to close if the proposed budget is not raised.
The overall budget level was agreed as part of a common position reached by ministers on the scientific content, structure and funding for the Fifth Framework. This included a commitment to seven major research projects.
The council's proposals must be considered by the European Parliament in a debate scheduled for April, followed by a second reading in the council in June. If the bodies still have not agreed, they will start a conciliation process.
Conciliation usually takes about three months. The process over the Fourth Framework, however, lasted nine months.