Science and research ministers from the European Union’s 25 countries agreed Monday to continue funding stem cell research, despite efforts by Germany to put a stop to the controversial practice.
Failure to agree would have been a setback for the entire 54 billion euro (US$68.5 billion) research budget for 2007-2013, which includes 9 billion euros of union funds for research in information and communication technologies (ICT). The research budget, dubbed framework program seven (FP7), is due for distribution starting in January.
Germany tried last week to block funds for stem cell research. In a letter to the Finnish government, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the union, research minister Annette Schavan said the European Union science program “should not be used to give financial incentives to kill embryos,” adding that the current proposal “does not rule this out.”
Germany already had the support of Austria, Poland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Malta, but that isn’t enough to secure a blocking minority of votes. Slovenia appeared to be considering joining them at the end of last week, but resisted in the end.
No vote was taken as it became clear that the majority in favor of including stem cell research in the budget was large enough to prevent opponents from blocking approval, said Timo Haapalehto, the Brussels-based spokesman on research matters for the Finnish government.
FP7 devotes the largest-ever amount of money to information and communication technology research. Projects to benefit from the public funding include the Galileo satellite project, which aims to offer a more accurate alternative to the U.S. GPS technology in use worldwide.
Previous research programs have played an important role in the development of technologies such as the global system for mobile communications mobile phone standard and the asymmetric digital subscriber line broadband standard.
Priorities for future European Union ICT research are still being discussed, but will include areas deemed essential for technological innovation and growth in Europe: nano/micro technologies, embedded systems such as radio frequency identification, photonics, robotics; fixed/wireless networks; communications, software engineering and software architecture.
The money will also be spent on some application areas where major research challenges have to be addressed, such as biomedicine, the development of intelligent cars and technology-assisted living.
The European Parliament is expected to support the agreement reached Monday by the science ministers, when they meet in later this year.
-Paul Meller, IDG News Service (Brussels Bureau)
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