MADRID--In an effort to invigorate its poorly funded science community, the Spanish government this week announced plans to ask for a major increase in research funding in the 1999 budget. Currently, Spain spends less than 1% of its gross domestic product on research and development, placing it firmly in the bottom tier in Europe. Observers expect parliament to approve the increase by the end of the year.
Excluding military programs, the research portfolio will go up about 8%, to $1.8 billion. The government has cited biotechnology and medical research as most worthy of a cash infusion, but it says other fields--including marine biology, energy, and transportation--will also receive special treatment.
Even if it is approved, the hefty increase is not nearly enough to close the gap between Spain and many other European countries, experts say. "We are quite behind other developed countries," says Jesus Avila, a researcher in the Centro de Biología Molecular in Madrid. Young scientists in particular have suffered in a tight job market, so researchers hope the funding boost is not a one-time phenomenon. "We must continue this trend," says Fernando Aldana, director of the Office of Science and Technology in Madrid, which oversees distribution of the government's science funds and authored the R&D request. "Spain can only achieve competitiveness through the sustainable growth of the investment in R&D," he says.