Sweden's Natural Sciences Research Council (NFR) has warned the government that, unless budget cuts are restored, it will either have to close some national research centres or give up its membership of CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.
In an interim report delivered to the government last week, the NFR says it would recommend closing “two or three” of the national facilities, rather than leaving CERN or reducing university grant money, which has been heavily pruned in recent years.
The two most vulnerable facilities are the The Svedberg Laboratory, a particle physics laboratory in Uppsala, and the Onsala Space Observatory near Gothenburg, which has two radiotelescopes.
Last year the Swedish government imposed a 14 per cent budget cut on the NFR, which funds university research in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics, as well as four national research laboratories. Threats of wider cuts in the research budget then prompted government officials to consider pulling out of CERN (see Nature 386, 636; 1997). But the research minister Carl Tham was persuaded not to do so.
Now Sweden's particle physicists face the same threat again. Earlier this year the government reorganized its budget lines to give the NFR responsibility for funding international organizations such as CERN and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The government also imposed a cut in the annual budget of SKr42 million (US$5.3 million), approximately equal to Sweden's annual subscription to CERN.
The NFR says that continued membership of international research organizations should be Sweden's highest priority if, as looks certain, cuts are not reversed. It is now trying to reach a consensus with universities on the best alternatives for handling the cuts, which come into effect in 2000.
The NFR cannot decide on its own whether or not to leave CERN. This decision lies with the government, which has frequently complained about the high cost of subscriptions to international research organizations. The Swedish particle physics and astronomy communities are served at CERN and ESO, although activities at national and international facilities do not overlap.
The NFR will present its final report to the government in the autumn, when a report from a parliamentary commission on the overall organization of research in Sweden is also due. If it were to leave CERN by 2000, the government would have to announce this by December.