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Spain’s newly elected government pledges support for industry-sponsored research

Commercialising R&D and boosting research in industry will be among the priorities of the Spain’s new ‘austerity’ government.

The centre-right Popular Party, led Mariano Rajoy, beat the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in the 20 November election with a majority of 186 in the Congress of 350, and with 136 out of 208 in the Senate. The incoming government’s main task will be to implement austerity measures in an attempt to reduce Spain’s budget deficit.

Under Socialist science and innovation minister Cristina Garmendia, R&D spending trebled in the six years since 2004, but after cuts in 2009 and 2010 it has fallen back, in real terms, to 2007 levels. Despite the Popular Party’s harsh criticism of cuts while in opposition, the party has made no pledge to increase spending.

Instead, speaking earlier this month at an event organised by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies, PP science spokesman and member of Congress Gabriel Elorriaga promised his party would generate more “social return” on research investment.

Science and innovation featured prominently in the party’s election manifesto 100 Proposals for Change. Commitments included updating tax incentives to favour start-ups and small businesses. The party also wants to support technology parks and increase cooperation between institutes by mapping national scientific and technological resources and implementing a single data network for R&D.

However the party’s commitments are vague and nothing new, says Juan de la Figuera, president of the Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology in Spain (AACTE). “The priority is to cut the deficit, so I expect there will be a strong push towards collaborating with companies, but the Socialists were starting to do that anyway,” he says.

The party’s main challenge will be to implement the Science Law, passed with all-party support in May. The government must create a Spanish Research Agency by May 2012 and reform research careers with four-year pre-doctoral contracts replacing existing scholarships. But government change means this may now be delayed, says de la Figuera.

“To be optimistic, we are facing a few months delay,” he says. “To be more pessimistic, we could see a full year of skipped programmes.”

The makeup of Rajoy’s government was undecided as Research Europe went to press, but even whether science and innovation will retain its own ministry remains a question, with responsibility for research switching repeatedly between education and industry in the last 10 years.