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Raffarin plea to calm boffins

PARIS, March 10 (AFP) – The French government on Wednesday appealed for scientists to drop a nationwide revolt over funding cuts, saying it was time for serious negotiations to resolve the crisis.

The plea went out the day after nearly 2,000 laboratory and research centre directors voted to leave their administrative functions in a largely symbolic protest at a perceived decline in the priority accorded to funding for their sector, poor pay and a growing brain drain to the United States, Canada and Japan.

“The time has come to stop passionate displays and take a close, hard and very scientific look at the proposals that have been made,” government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said.

The French state budget for science and research stands at EUR 9 billion this year.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has made what he says is a final offer of an extra EUR 3 billion (USD 3.7 billion) for research over the next three years, as well as other credits and the promise of a national commission to study the future of French research.

The concessions were a bid to put down a broad movement of protests by scientists, lawyers, teachers, writers and performing artists, who accuse the centre-right government of being “anti-intellectual”.

The issue has taken on an urgent dimension for Raffarin and President Jacques Chirac’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, just two weeks ahead of regional elections.

More than half of France’s 105,000 public sector researchers, along with many of their private sector colleagues, have vowed to continue with the campaign under the banner “Save Research”.

They have called on Chirac to address their demands directly, notably by reversing staff cutbacks. They have rejected the current proposals as insufficient.

They are particularly unsettled by the siphoning off of talented minds to more lucrative shores.

In 2000 some 3,000 science graduates left for the United States alone, according to official figures. Every year France creates some 11,000 new potential researchers but only between 30 and 40 percent can be absorbed by the public sector.

Critics argue that much of the problem lies with the anarchic organisation of the science sector, poor links to private industry, bureaucratic rigidity and a civil servant status for all staff, which means they have jobs for life.

Total public and private research spending in France represents around 2.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). That is down about 0.2 percentage points from four years ago, despite a promise by Chirac to lift spending to three percent of GDP.

In comparison, Germany spends about 2.5 percent of GDP on research and development.

In Britain, where the private sector forms the brunt of scientific activity, the state contributes around GBP 2 billion (EUR 3 billion) a year, or 0.2 percent of GDP.

In the United States, around 2.8 percent of GDP goes to spending on science, with the medical and aerospace industries swallowing a large proportion.


                                                              Subject: France news