Research chief sacked after budget wrangles

August 8, 2003

The head of France's leading research institution has been sacked after refusing to cooperate with the government over budget cuts.

Research minister Claudie Haigneré last week announced that Bernard Larrouturou would take over from Geneviève Berger as director-general of the multidisciplinary National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Ms Berger was appointed on a four-year renewable contract in September 2000 by Ms Haigneré's socialist predecessor, Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg.

A statement from the research ministry said that the council of ministers had approved Ms Haignere's proposal to "bring to an end, in advance, Ms Berger's term of office". No reason was given for her dismissal, but her relationship with some ministry officials has been fraught. At a board meeting in March she protested against cuts to the centre's budget.

Ms Haigneré said the centre was "a central element of the national research system" that needed "a new process" to allow it to develop research and "meet fully the expectations of society, the state, employees and partners of the CNRS".

She said that the director-general's new objectives would be "to strengthen the cohesion of the CNRS, promote the excellence of researchers' work, encourage the centre's overall efficiency and develop its partnerships".

But the minister reiterated her confidence in CNRS chairman Gérard Magie, also appointed by Mr Schwartzenberg, who had been "closely associated in the choice of the new director-general and in working out the objectives".

Dr Larrouturou, 44, is a graduate of two elite engineering schools, Polytechnique and Ponts et Chaussées. He has a PhD in mathematics from the University of Paris-6, Pierre et Marie Curie, where Professor Magie is a professor. He is a specialist in mathematical and digital modelling of the phenomena of combustion and in fluid mechanics.

As well as taking over at the CNRS, Dr Larrouturou will continue as chairman and director-general of the National Institute of Research into Information Technologies and Automation until the appointment of a successor.

The CNRS, which was set up in 1939, is France's biggest public research body. It has more than 25,000 employees, of whom about 12,000 are researchers.

Its budget in 2002 was €2.5 billion (£1.75 billion). While officially regarded as the jewel in the crown of French research, it was described by former minister Claude All gre as "fossilised".

Under successive ministers in recent years, efforts have been made to modernise and streamline the centre, including the development of interdisciplinary programmes, greater cooperation with universities and the promotion of partnerships with industry.

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