French research minister Claudie Haignere has lifted most of the budgetary restrictions imposed by the finance ministry. Her action follows protests and strikes by researchers over previously planned funding cuts and freezes.
Public research organisations - such as the multidisciplinary CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) and the medical research institute Inserm - will not face new cuts this year. The minister said freezes on forthcoming research programmes totalling €160 million (£109 million) had been lifted, and that unused funds carried over from last year would not, after all, be cancelled.
After the cuts were shelved, Ms Haignere said establishments would have all the funds announced in the initial 2003 budget. Some funds that had already been cancelled will not be reinstated but they equalled less than 10 per cent of institutes' resources.
It is thought that her success in restoring the budget was largely due to campaigning by research unions to draw attention to the financial plight of the sector.
Thousands of researchers demonstrated last month in Paris and other large towns. Workers at Inserm, which called on the minister to resign in solidarity if the financial cuts were confirmed, launched a petition that attracted more than 7,000 signatures.
The finance ministry had ordered draconian cuts in programmes and operating costs following public expenditure economies across all ministries, on top of a 2003 budget down 1.3 per cent compared with 2002. Unions claimed the measures were leading to cuts of 30 per cent in the allocations of most public laboratories.
Union representatives said there was no guarantee freezes would not be reimposed.