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Scientists in France have strongly criticized cuts to this year’s research and higher-education budgets, which were confirmed by the government last week.

The cuts are just part of a reduction of €10 billion (US$10.9 billion) in overall public spending, outlined by the economy and finance minister Bruno Le Maire on 18 February. The decision follows the government’s reduction of its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for this year from 1.4% to 1%. A decree enacting the cuts was published in France’s Official Journal and signed by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on 22 February.

As part of a €904-million cut to the budget for research and higher education, allocations for national research agencies, such as the CNRS, Inserm, Inria and INRAE — which fund basic research — will be slashed by around €383 million.

The revised research spend “amounts to a reduction of some 5%” compared with this year’s planned state budget, and “shows the government is not honouring its research plan for 2021 to 2030”, says Patrick Lemaire, an embryologist at the University of Montpellier, France. “Because of salaries and other fixed overheads, it means agencies will have 25% less cash to cover their research costs.”

“It is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” says Boris Gralak, general secretary of the country’s research union, the National Union of Scientific Research. When President Emmanuel Macron announced an overhaul of the organization of French research in December, he stressed the importance of science and the need to catch up with other countries in terms of research spending. “These cuts are a total contradiction, and mean France is still further away from achieving its goal of raising public-research spending to 1% of GDP from less than 0.75%,” says Gralak.

It is not yet clear how the cuts will be divided among the research agencies, says Bernard Meunier, a chemist and former president of the French Academy of Sciences. He adds that it is “up to the research ministry to decide” how to distribute funding in a fair way. Funding “must preserve the laboratories of excellence in all fields, and not penalize them”, he adds.

An official from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research told Nature that its budget for the year still represents an increase from 2023, and that “in general, the operating resources of all the establishments [under its responsibility] remain intact”. Research-agency salaries and lab resources will be preserved, and the cuts will mainly affect precautionary reserves, the purchase of research equipment and renovation of premises, they said.

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