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Could the Extremely Large Telescope be built on European soil?

Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, is backing plans to construct the European Extremely Large Telescope in the Canary Islands, Research Europe has learned.

Buzek will announce his support for the project on 3 February, paving the way for debates on whether the location for the 1 billion euro telescope should be chosen according scientific or socio-economic factors.

A European Southern Observatory team is currently considering a number of sites for the project, including the Canary Islands, home to the European Northern Observatory, and Chile, where ESOs Southern Observatory is based. The group is due to report back to the ESO council during its meeting in March, although some believe it is unlikely that a final decision will be made on the spot. Meanwhile, a delegation from the European Parliament is to visit the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on 19 February to learn more about the location.

Those backing the Canary Islands are likely to argue that the location provides tax benefits and presents an opportunity to develop the region. They may also suggest that the site is already fairly well prepared to host the 42 meter diameter segmented mirror project, whereas the Chile site might absorb more cash during the construction phase. The islands are already home to a number of astronomy projects, led by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.

However, the Chilean side may equally argue that Europe has already spent a considerable amount of money in developing Chile as a base for its astronomy work and that the E-ELT would provide the perfect complement to existing instruments in the region.

Rows over the importance of socio-economic factors when choosing locations for European projects have arisen before, including that over the site for the European Spallation Source. This ultimately went to Lund in Sweden, despite competition from less developed regions, such as Debrecen in Hungary.

Some newer member states have lobbied for research infrastructures to be used as a means to develop their regions rather than locating them in areas that already host research facilities, even if they might offer a better scientific environment. Those backing La Palma will argue that the Canary Islands fits the bill in both respects.