Budget leaves scientists disappointed as the country’s research programme struggles to right itself

A proposed 3.61% increase in Spain’s science budget for 2014 after four years of cuts has been met with disappointment by representatives of the country’s scientific community.

Last Friday, Mariano Rajoy’s government put forward a budget draft that is due to be debated in the Spanish parliament before the end of the year. It is unlikely to change, given the absolute majority of the governing right wing People’s Party.

The latest budget offers a sea change in thinking for science and innovation, when compared with the last four years. Since 2009, Spain has cut 39% of the state’s spending on science, which has been followed by a reduction in the number of people employed in research, questions over Spain’s membership of international scientific organisations and a drop in the percentage of GDP invested in science.

By contrast, in 2014 Spain is set to increase its science spending by €214 million (£181 million), reaching €6.15 billion, according to an analysis published yesterday by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE). Military research is boosted by 39% (€507 million, 8% of the total), after years of drastic cuts. The government has also curbed the loans available for research which artificially inflated the apparent size of the funding pot for science, as many of these loans are never taken. Finally, €110 million have been earmarked for CERN to cover Spain’s 2014 membership dues and pay for some of the debts accumulated over the past two years.

‘Insignificant and disappointing’

However, ‘these increases are insignificant and disappointing: they are much less than what is needed to go back to 2009’s [spending] levels’, says José María Pingarrón, a professor of analytical chemistry at the Complutense University in Madrid, and board member of COSCE.

In September, COSCE and the other main scientific bodies, collaborating under the umbrella organisation the Letter for Science group, published four minimal requirements to make Spanish science competitive again. The first demand was for a yearly €636 million rise in funding, in order to return to 2009 levels in three years, when Spanish science funding reached its historical high point. The increase proposed by the government is about a third of what scientists were looking for.

Moreover, the increase in grants to non-military research of €128 million is only slightly higher than the €104 million emergency injection that the government released in June on top of the 2013 budget, in order to honour a part of its scientific commitments.

‘Our three other requirements are not met by the draft budget either,’ says Amaya Moro, a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics at Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC) Centre for Astrobiology and a promoter of the Letter for Science group. The requested research council, based on the European Research Council, to dole out money independently of the government is not even budgeted for. The hiring of new researchers continues to be limited to one hired for every 10 retired. On top of this the 2014 grant funding programme – the National Plan – has only received an additional €11 million, much less than last year’s emergency cash injection. ‘We are sceptical about the government’s intentions also because the call for the 2013 National Plan, which was expected for the beginning of this year, has not been issued yet, so maybe the government is planning to skip this year’s call,’ says Moro.

Another matter of contention is CSIC. In July, its president admitted that the €602 million of funding for 2013 would not last it to the end of the year and an extra €100 million would be needed. The government has promised to do all it can to avert a crisis. ‘But next year’s budget is almost identical to this year’s, so they are just setting back the problem, which is likely to emerge again next year,’ says Emilio Criado, a scientist at CSIC’s Institute for Ceramics and Glass.