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Still in danger. The Spanish National Research Council, which is in severe financial difficulty, gets a 0.1% budget increase.

Despite Glimmers of Hope, 2014 Budget Disappoints Spanish Researchers

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Following several years of drastic cuts, the Spanish government plans to be a little more generous to science in 2014. But the small increase in next year's budget—1.3% for Spain's civil research sector—comes as a disappointment for Spanish scientists, who had lobbied hard for a much more substantial increase.

"The Spanish government has completely ignored the requests of the entire scientific society,” writes Amaya Moro-Martín, a spokesperson for Investigación Digna, an organization of researchers, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.

Austerity dominates in the 2014 national budget bill, which was submitted to parliament on Monday morning. But there are a few brighter spots, and science is among them. The national budget for civil research will reach €5.63 billion in 2014, a 1.3% increase compared with 2013. Funding for military research is set to increase by a whopping 39.5% to €507 million, largely offsetting a 52% drop in 2013.

Within the civil research budget, €3.38 billion will be allocated to companies through loans, a long-standing national practice widely criticized by the Spanish community for gradually creating a bubble of unspent funds. The remaining €2.25 billion will go to research teams through competitive funding calls and to public research institutes as lump sums. That's a 6.1% rise that helps restore the balance between the two types of funding, the government argued in its budget documents.

The national budget also allocates about €111 million to cover for Spain's participation in CERN, including €36 million in overdue membership fees. The overall budget goes up slightly for many national research bodies; the National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology gets a 9.8% budget hike, for example, and the Spanish Institute of Oceanography will have 4.3% more.

But the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which this summer received a €25 million cash injection to save it from bankruptcy—and which said it needed another €75 million to be able to make it to the end of the year—sees its budget increase by a paltry 0.1%, to just under €603 million. In an open letter today, the Federation of Young Investigators and other organizations said that the 2014 science budget “only underscores the fall of the institution.”

“The new science budget represents a turn in the current trends,” writes Luis Sanz-Menéndez, director of the CSIC Institute of Public Goods and Policies in Madrid, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. “However, most of the budget is earmarked,” leaving “very little room of maneuvering for initiatives to stop the ongoing decline of the science system," Sanz-Menéndez adds. “The budget DOES NOT SOLVE any of the problems,” a spokesperson of the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies writes in an emphatic e-mail to ScienceInsider.

Spain's scientific community had launched an unprecedented campaign to undo years of drastic, across-the-board cuts. On 16 September, the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies, the Conference of Spanish University Chancellors, Investigación Digna, the Federation of Young Investigators, and two major trade unions demanded in a public statement that the government bring civil research spending back to the 2009 level of 0.6% of gross domestic product—the average in Europe—by 2016. But this would have required an increase of €636 million per year in nonloan research funding, instead of the €128 million now proposed.

The government also ignored the scientific community’s request to remove the cap on new jobs in government research. “This freeze on hiring, together with the budget cuts and year-long delays in the grants and human resources programs, are inevitably triggering a wide-spread brain drain,” Moro-Martín writes. “Several generations of scientists are faced with only two options: to leave research or to emigrate.”

The budget bill is now to be debated in parliament. Even though the governing party holds an absolute majority, scientists are hopeful that amendments are possible. Opposition parties have agreed to try to "guarantee the viability of the Spanish R&D system,” Moro-Martín writes. “The Spanish government is isolated in its disregard for R&D.”

Posted in Europe, Funding