French seek future security

April 1, 2005

French researchers have written to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin demanding negotiations on long-term budgetary and employment planning for research that they claim should be central to proposed legislation.

Unions and the action group Sauvons La Recherche fear the Government is preparing to postpone or even drop a law promised by President Jacques Chirac a year ago now that ministers have introduced their own changes.

A revolt last year against falling budgets and cuts in tenured posts led to Mr Chirac pledging legislation that would give priority to research, and a national debate culminated in a conference that approved reforms in the sector.

Since then, the Government has launched an agency to finance research projects -"centres of competitivity" and an industrial innovation agency are in the pipeline.But there has been no long-term planning for budget and staffing, although framework legislation was scheduled for December 2004.

Indications last week were that legislation would reach the National Assembly in October at the earliest.

"The Government has put in place the principal reforms that interest it, and it could be tempted to abandon the research law. That would allow it to avoid setting out a budgetary programme - and that programme is what concerns us most," said Jacques Fossey, secretary general of the SNCS-FSU union, last week.

To achieve the target of 3 per cent of gross domestic product for research and development by 2010, Mr Fossey estimated that France needed to increase spending by e3 billion-e4 billion (£2 billion-£3 billion) a year, "of which e1 billion-e1.5 billion must be devoted to public research".

After protests in February and March, a further day of action will be held on April 2, and a "100 angry campuses" campaign is being launched to expose problems in the scientific community.

*The European Court of Justice has confirmed after a ruling against the French Government that European Union governments would be acting illegally if they insisted national research tax breaks could subsidise work carried out in their own countries.

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