Extensive negotiations over reform at the French national biomedical research agency have ended with the adoption of a text reflecting last-minute concessions to trade unions representing the agency's researchers. The planned reform to the statutes of the agency, INSERM, is intended to streamline its internal decision-making.
The trade unions say they remain unhappy about the final text adopted by the agency's administrative council, which they claim will increase political control over INSERM (see Nature 391, 110; 1998) by increasing the power of this council, but that the last-minute concessions won have eased their major concerns.
The government had already abandoned the most controversial elements of the decree — such as splitting INSERM into five departments — following opposition from researchers.
But the modified reform text was nonetheless rejected by staff union representatives last month. They claimed management had given insufficient assurances on the scope of new powers given to the administrative council to make strategic decisions on research directions and funding.
Such decisions were previously reached through agreement by the scientific community and INSERM management, and the unions argued that assurances were needed over the continued role of INSERM's scientific commissions in decision-making.
The administrative council has bowed to these demands, and the adopted text restricts the council's role to deciding on the ‘broad lines’ of policy, staff and budgetary decisions. Also, the scientific committees must be consulted not only on the creation, modification or abolition of programmes, but also on the financing of individual INSERM laboratories.