EU Budget Trend Angers Ex Research Minister

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Former European Research Commissioner Phillipe Busquin delivered a sharply worded critique June 17 lashing out at what he said are “catastrophic” budget cuts being made to the European Union’s (EU) research budget, which includes funds for proposed space and security programs.

Busquin, who left his post in 2004 after five years and is now a member from Belgium of the European Parliament, said negotiations under way in Brussels among EU government leaders is likely to result in cuts to the proposed seven-year research budget that will be from 73 billion ($91.3 billion) to 45 billion euros.

Busquin said the proposed spending on space and security, which had been set at more than 500 million euros per year during the seven-year program, is likely to be reduced to 300 million euros annually. That would mean no increase from the previous seven-year package despite repeated declarations by European heads of state that research is the key to Europe’s future competitiveness and economic health.

Appearing at a conference here called “Towards a New European Space Policy” organized by the Robert Schuman Foundation, Busquin said EU heads of state are more concerned about maintaining Europe’s massive farm price-support system than investing in tomorrow’s technologies.

Busquin appeared in a panel discussion that included French Sen. Alain Gournac, vice president of the 7th Interparliamentary Space Conference, which gathered representatives from 17 governments in Paris June 16-17 to discuss space policy.

Gournac delivered a speech lauding the performance and perspectives of Europe’s space sector. He said the future promised exciting new projects such as Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher. He also said Europe’s space managers needed to explain their business better to the general public.

“Space cannot remain the business only of specialists,” Gournac said. “It needs to get down to the street level. Otherwise, people will counter space investment by saying, ‘My street hasn’t been repaved, and our sidewalks are in bad shape.'”

Kurt J. Rossmanith, a member of the German parliament, or Bundestag, delivered an address that called for more space spending in general despite the fact that the German government is usually among the first to propose budget cuts to specific programs.

It was too much for Busquin. Barely containing himself, he said the seven-year Framework Program on Research for 2007-2013, now being debated in Europe, “is a negation of everything we’ve been told about making Europe competitive. Words are one thing; figures speak the truth, and the figures are catastrophic. It is shameful.”

Busquin’s address was followed by a similar analysis from Francois Auque, president of EADS Space, who has long warned that Europe is at risk of falling too far behind the United States in the uses of space technology — especially military space applications — and is now about to be passed by China, India, South Korea and others.

Retaking the microphone, Gournac said he could not believe the picture in Europe was so bleak. “I am here to bring a little balance to the picture,” Gournac said. “There are lots of exciting things going on in this sector. I mean, if it’s this bad, what should we do — close up shop and spend our money on something else?” Busquin turned on Gournac as an example of political leaders that Busquin blames for the current budget picture.

“You obviously have difficulty hearing the truth,” Busquin said to Gournac. “If you don’t want to understand it, I’m sorry. But [it is] people like you who are responsible.”