European Union money for research in United Kingdom universities is substituting Government funding for science, in direct contravention of EU policy, according to Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for Greater Manchester East.
Mr Ford claims that a Dutch draft report "clearly shows" that although European monies are labelled for additional R&D expenditure, the UK is not adhering to this for any but the biggest and most successful universities.
"The report at best places a large question mark over British Government funding of university R&D and at worst indicates that they have been systematically defrauding the European Union," he said. Mr Ford has tabled a question to Edith Cresson, EU researcher commissioner, calling for an independent investigation into the UK's use of EU R&D funds. If the case is proven, he suggests legal action be taken to ensure that the UK abides by EU treaty provisions.
The draft report has been compiled by academics at the University of Limburg, Netherlands and Paul David of All Souls College, Oxford University, for Scientific and Technological Options Assessment, a European Parliament advisory body. Edward Steinmueller of Limburg urged caution in drawing any conclusions.
He said that the relationship between national spend on R&D and monies supplied from Brussels was complex and made analysis of "additionality" in operation very difficult.
The report has particularly probed funding of research in materials science, engineering and technology. The academics also carried out a questionnaire-based examination of possible substitution effects in 20 UK institutions.
Professor Steinmueller said that while the study does not reveal "a systematic or pervasive pattern of substitution" there is evidence that small and medium-sized university departments receiving EU grants and contracts "tend to experience a shrinkage in their national funding". Large departments - particularly those in leading research institutions - tend to associate the receipt of EU finds with subsequent increases in national research funding.
This suggested R&D funding policy "appears to be influenced by the size of the department and university, implying a selective application of substitution in a manner that already favours the already major research performers".