LONDON--While U.S. research and development is slated for record boosts, Europe's multibillion-dollar Framework research program appears headed for a flat budget. Last week, the EU's Council of Research Ministers agreed on a $13 billion budget--14% less than the amount proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. "It is a dark day for European research. The sum is lower in real terms than the budget for the Fourth Framework Program," says Research Commissioner Edith Cresson.
Cresson and other supporters of the program are now pinning their hopes on the European Parliament, which shares authority over budgets with the council. Parliament approved the commission's budget proposals late last year. Unless Parliament now backs down and accepts the council's cuts or comes up with an acceptable compromise, the two sides may be forced into a conciliation procedure that could take months.
The Framework program funds international collaborations of academic and industrial researchers working on projects that aim to benefit European industry or address common problems such as the environment. It goes through a tortuous approval process every 5 years, when its scope, structure, and budget are debated. This year has been especially tough because many countries are striving to reduce their spending to meet strict requirements for participation in the proposed single European currency. In last week's council meeting, research ministers from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Austria all pressed for an even bigger cut, to less than $13 billion.
Because Framework 4 funds will dry up at the end of the year, there is pressure to reach agreement on the budget and detailed contents of Framework 5 quickly so the commission can make the first call for research proposals. But many observers believe the Parliament is likely to make a fight of it. "I'm very disappointed at the overall amount. I would be surprised if Parliament accepted it," says Gordon Adam, a vice chair of the Parliament's research committee.