Brussels, 08 Feb 2006
The newly appointed president of the French national centre for scientific research (CNRS), Catherine Bréchignac, has pledged to put science back at the top of the organisation's agenda as it presses ahead with planned reforms.
Dr Bréchignac became president of CNRS following the resignation in January of previous incumbent Bernard Meunier, who left the job in protest at reforms proposed by his former director general Bernard Larrouturou. Professor Larrouturou was relieved of his role with the publicly-funded body by the French government shortly afterwards, without a formal reason being given.
The new president is now keen to draw a line under the affair, however. 'This crisis is now behind us,' Dr Bréchignac told France's Le Monde newspaper. 'For my part, I will do everything I can to bring calm back to [the organisation].' Asked what her immediate priorities would be, she said: 'Putting science back at the top of the agenda [...]. That's the basis on which we have to build while working in partnership with universities and other organisations.'
Dr Bréchignac confirmed that the organisation would push ahead with the reforms proposed under the previous management, consolidating eight CNRS departments into four larger ones: chemistry, man and society, life sciences, and a large division covering maths, information technology, physics and astronomy. Two further cross-cutting departments will cover sustainable development and engineering.
Administration of the organisation will be left to five regional directorates, as foreseen, but these will not get involved in the management of research units, said Dr Bréchignac. On the subject of the government's role in CNRS, which some have speculated was the issue that led to Professor Larrouturou's dismissal, the new president said that the research ministry should not be involved in the day to day running of research organisations. 'The role of public authorities is to fix the overall direction for research, assign resources and coordinate the different actors. I don't need to be led by the hand.'
Finally, asked whether the CNRS would be undermined by plans to create a national research agency in France, Dr Bréchignac said: 'All countries have an agency for research. We just need to ensure that it has a flexible and non-bureaucratic structure, and that funded projects are chosen by relevant and independent scientists.'
Dr Bréchignac has a background in atomic physics, focusing on the interface of nuclear and molecular physics, and was previously director general of the CNRS from 1997 to 2000.