Research Set to Win Big in France's Stimulus Plan

PARIS—France's collective brainpower may be headed for a massive boost in the government's long-awaited economic stimulus plan. A panel chaired by two former prime ministers recommends spending more than €20 billion on boosting research, higher education, innovation, and technology. The plan would also give the 5-year-old National Research Agency (ANR), whose €800 million budget has been flat for several years, considerably more clout.

After months of study and testimony by more than 200 witnesses, the panel, chaired by former French prime ministers Alain Juppé and Michel Rocard, presented its report to French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday. In total, it recommends a €35 billion "investment in the future," €22 billion of which is to be borrowed on the financial markets—which is why the plan is also known as the Big Loan.

Noting that France is lagging in international rankings of scientific output and fails to turn science into business, the group says that investing in knowledge should be the top priority. The panel’s spending proposals include:

* €10 for the consolidation of top research and higher education centers in 5 to 10 world-class campuses—a proposal echoing the governments' Campus Plan.
* €2 billion, to be distributed by ANR on a project basis, for science, innovation in higher education, and grants to bring top French talent abroad back home.
* €3.5 billion, also through ANR, for the creation of three to five world-class "innovation campuses" and other means to turn research into marketable products and services.
* €0.5 billion for making science careers more attractive to young people—especially girls—and to create a "positive attitude towards science" among the public.
* €1 billion for research on biofuels and another €1 billion to support high-quality biomedical research.
* €2.5 billion for developing clean new energy technology and another €1 billion for "nuclear technologies of tomorrow."
* €1 billion for "cars of the future," €2.5 billion on aeronautic and space technology, and €4 billion for new information and communication technologies.

Sarkozy may change both the size and the scope of the plan; he is expected to announce a decision in early December. The president has previously indicated that the stimulus should be between €25 billion and €50 billion. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has criticized the spending spree, warning that it may come too late and will endanger France's long-term fiscal health.