Stem-cell hope as Italy pulls support for EU opposition

June 16, 2006

Fears that restrictions on European money for stem-cell research could continue into the Seventh Framework Programme are receding despite opposition to the technology from some MEPs.

One restriction tabled in the European Parliament would ban "research activities intended to create human embryos solely for the purpose of research or for the purpose of stem-cell procurement".

The full Parliament will decide how the €54.5 billion (£38 billion) programme spends money on stem-cell research, sharing that decision with European Union member states. But Italy's new left-of-centre Government has withdrawn support for a declaration opposing stem-cell research that was signed by the previous Berlusconi administration.

With its previous allies Austria, Germany, Malta, Poland and Slovakia, Italy could have mustered enough "no" votes in the Council of Ministers to stop FP7 stem-cell studies, but this "blocking minority" has now disappeared.

Fabio Mussi, the Italian Research Minister, said: "It did not seem to me right stopping research funding in other European countries." The issue was debated for months during the Sixth Framework Programme, and it could significantly delay approval of its replacement.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has released more higher education spending proposals under the EU's 2007-13 medium-term budget. These include €6.9 billion on lifelong learning, including exchanges such as the Erasmus Mundus programme (€656 million earmarked, with €502 million for a post-2009 Erasmus Mundus two sequel).

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