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Spain unveils plans for national research agency

Spain’s conservative government has announced plans for the creation of a State Research Agency this year, as agreed under the previous socialist administration.

The agency aims to “create more efficient instruments and mechanisms for funding and management” that will improve the impact of public spending on science, the government said in a statement on 12 June. The agency is set to be modelled after similar agencies in Europe—in particular the European Research Council—to distribute research funding on the basis of scientific competition.

Under the plans Carmen Vela, the secretary of state for research, development and innovation who is part of the ministry for economy and competitiveness, will preside over the agency. But the ministry said that the agency’s funding and evaluation procedures will be independent.

The country’s Science Law, passed with all-support in May 2011, stated that the agency must be set up by May 2012.

The announcement of the plans might appease scientists alarmed by the government’s decision to slash Spain’s dedicated science ministry, and to cut science spending by 25 per cent this year compared to 2011. “If the agency is set up with the [ERC’s] characteristics, the disappearance of the ministry won’t be too bad,” biologist Joan Guinovart, former president of the Confederation of Scientific Societies of Spain, told newspaper El País when the government was sworn in back in December 2011.

Spanish newspaper ABC said that creating the agency required an amendment to the country’s general budget rules, as the creation of new bodies has been frozen to curb public spending. This change will be put to a vote in the Spanish senate next week, ABC said.

When announcing the agency’s creation, economy minister Luis de Guindos praised Spain’s national centre for cardiovascular research CNIC as a funding model to follow for other organisations. The centre receives 60 per cent of its funds from public sources, 20 per cent from private companies and 20 per cent from foreign subsidies.

“I think this is a great example of what can be done when the public and private sectors cooperate,” ABC quoted de Guindos as saying.