24 Jan 2019   |   News

Romania budget delay, a ‘catastrophe’ for research

Researchers urge the government to speed up debate and approval of 2019 budget. Projects already approved could be interrupted for weeks, or months, they say

Romanian finance minister Eugen Teodorovici presided the Economic and Financial Affairs Council in Brussels, a few weeks after Romania took over the rotating presidency of the EU Council. Photo: European Council 

The Romanian government has yet to approve a budget for 2019, a delay which “has catastrophic effects on the national research system,” according to the association of Romanian researchers, Ad Astra.

Researchers warn that projects won through national competitions in 2018 are at risk because they cannot legally continue their work until a 2019 budget is approved. Every year, financing is usually unlocked just a few weeks after the national budget is approved.

The budget delay this year means research projects funded from the national budget could be interrupted for weeks or months to come, Ad Astra said. The delay could also lead to “the dissolution of research teams, worsening even more the fragile state of the [research] system.”

Some researchers already have their projects reduced to a minimum and cannot be sure whether the 2019 budget will eventually cover the costs of projects already won.

“I can’t be sure of the budget that I will be allocated in 2019,” said Mihai Miclăuș, a genomics researcher at the Institute of Biological Research in Cluj-Napoca. “In Romania it has become common practice to rejig budgets of projects that are already contracted,” he said. The activities in his projects are now reduced to a minimum, with a loan from the Institute of Biological Research covering his salary. “This doesn’t cover other costs for the [research] activities foreseen in the project.” The institute is expected to recover the money once the budget is voted, but that could take up to a several months.

In universities the situation is even worse, as the universities themselves cannot loan researchers money to continue their projects. Researchers will not be able to procure materials and equipment until the ministry actually wires the money. “We had situations in the past when [university] partners could not deliver precisely because the budget was not approved and they were out of cash and couldn’t make procurements,” said Miclăuș.

Researchers expect the budget could be voted sometime in February, which will allow the ministry to finalise research contracts with its executive agency by the end of April. First payments are expected to be made to research institutes in May, while on 5 December, the institutes are expected to file their end of year reports. This means “we will have seven months of active research,” said Miclăuș.

List of demands

Researchers call on the government to immediately issue the national budget law for 2019 and to open the public debate on it.

They also want the government to meet the funding levels promised and established in the national research and innovation strategy in 2014, of 0.83 per cent of GDP for 2019 and 0.97 per cent for 2020.

Researchers are disappointed that the government has not stuck to its plan set out in 2014 and are calling for better and more stable leadership at the helm of the research ministry. In 2018, funding was less than a quarter of what was promised in the national research and innovation strategy, with more than 20 per cent of the €350 million allocated for research being reallocated to other budgets. Researchers put the blame on the frequent changes in leadership at the ministry for the chaos in Romanian research funding.

Budgetary struggles

It seems that the social democrat government is delaying the approval of the new budget to find more money to cover for larger expenditures in the public sector. In December, it introduced a new ‘tax on greed’ aimed at banks and energy and telecommunications companies, hoping the new revenue would help cover salary increases in the public sector, bring more money to the 2019 budget, and bring the deficit down to less than three per cent of GDP, a limit set by the European Union.

So far, the move has caused the national currency to depreciate against the euro to the lowest point in history, while analysts worry that the deficit will be well above three per cent limit.

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