Schwartzenberg: wants to help start-ups. Credit: AFP

France's new research minister, Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, promised last week that the government will substantially increase its support for research in information technology and biotechnology.

Schwartzenberg says that over four years he will double the research budget of France's computing research agency, INRIA, which received FF408 million (US$56 million) in state support in 1998. In addition, a computer science division will be created at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

Schwartzenberg plans to use the research ministry's own funds to pay for these increases. He says that the money allocated for new technologies from the National Science Funds and the Funds for Technology Research, which the ministry directs, will increase by 50 per cent next year.

The budget increases were announced by Schwartzenberg during his first public speech on his plans for the post. He was appointed to head the research ministry in March after his predecessor, Claude Allègre, was sacked by the prime minister, Lionel Jospin, in a cabinet reshuffle.

Unlike Allègre, who ran a superministry overseeing higher education and research, Schwartzenberg will “have all of his time to dedicate to raising the research budget”, says Vincent Courtillot, who served as research director under Allègre and will retain a similar position in the new ministry.

One priority highlighted by Schwartzenberg last week is to boost spending for life-sciences research. He also plans to set aside FF200 million as seed money for biotechnology companies, as well as a national network of ‘incubators’ specialized in raising biotech start-ups.

On most fronts, Schwartzenberg will continue with the policies of his predecessor. But he has broken with Allègre's opposition to building a new synchrotron facility on French soil (see Nature 404, 533; 2000). The new minister, while continuing a partnership with the British government and the Wellcome Trust to build the synchrotron Diamond in Britain at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, is also pursuing a third-generation machine in France.

Last week Schwartzenberg met with British science minister Lord Sainsbury and discussed the possibility of British cooperation in the French project, Soleil. A statement issued after the meeting said that the two facilities “would enable the scientific community in the future to cover a wide range of applications of synchrotron radiation”.

Schwartzenberg's appointment coincides with France assuming the presidency of the European Union in July. In last week's presentation, he said he favoured accelerating the creation of a European patent, creating incubators and seed money for new technology companies, and harmonizing the tax system to favour the creation of new companies.