Edition 227 - March 2020

Upcoming French law on research encounters mass opposition from researchers

On the 1st of February 2019, the minister of higher education and research in France – Frédérique Vidal – announced a new draft law on research, under the title of Loi de programmation pluriannuelle de la recherche (LPPR). According to the ministry, the new law has two main objectives: giving more value to the career of young researchers and augmenting the level of research in France. To do that, the project of law, as further described on the ministry’s website, aims to better take into account the prolonged time of research and give more visibility to laboratories. There is also a desire to give a more coherent outlook to the reforms to better centralize public investment in research, to identify and better the programs of research answering to the needs of the nation, as well as pushing the boundaries of knowledge. Overall, the draft law aims to also prepare a system that would better resonate with the upcoming Horizon Europe programme.

However, while the new law has been under preparation for several months, between August and December 2019, and three reports with recommendations from related working groups have been since released, the full draft text is yet to be published and open to public debate. Thus far, two sources of information point to what the draft law might ultimately stipulate. The first is a short version, published on the 9th of January 2020, while the second is a communication by the minister on the 4th of February 2020.

The absence of the draft text in full has generated increasing unrest in the French scientific community, university researchers reacting, en masse, against the upcoming project of law. In Le Monde, a group of 800 university professors and researchers denounced the alleged negative impact that the law would have on research and asked for it to be rejected. They believe the status promised by the law would actually put researchers in more precarious situations, would lead to less autonomy of research by augmenting political control, and leading to harmful privatisation.

On the 5th of March 2020 a national strike was organised in protest, with more than 100 universities, 300 laboratories and 145 scientific journals joining the movement and having stopped their research activities on this date. Such a strike hasn’t happened in France in this sector since 2009.

According to the initial timeline, the minister intended for the draft law to be handed in for parliamentary debate in early 2020, and to enter into force in 2021, at the same time with Horizon Europe. However, following the strike and due to the aggravation of the Covid-19 crisis in France, it seems that this timeline as well as the legal means to bring the new law into existence might be further revised. Pre-emptively, French President Emmanuel Macron announced via social media an additional EUR 5 Billion. to the initial EUR 15 Billion. foreseen for research over a 10 years period, i.e. a 33% increase.

French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation

LeMonde

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