The decisive rejection of bailout terms in Greece yesterday has ratcheted up an already tense situation in Europe and left Greek researchers wondering about the fate of hundreds of millions of euros that fund science in their debt-ridden country.
“I feel horrible,” says Achilleas Mitsos, an economist and science policy expert at the University of the Aegean, Mytilene, and a former director general for research at the European Commission. “I’m really worried about science but I’m worried about my country, more than anything else.” But what the “no” vote will mean for the country's place in Europe and the future of Greek science is still very unclear.
Polls had shown Greek voters more or less evenly divided on the referendum; as ScienceInsider reported on Friday, some researchers believed a “yes” would be better for science, which has benefited greatly from Greece's membership in the European Union. Greek researchers have done well in Seventh Framework Programme, the funding scheme that preceded Horizon 2020, and the E.U.'s so-called structural funds have helped provide stable funding for many Greek labs. According to the commission’s Joint Research Centre, the European Union paid for 15.8% of Greece's total R&D spending in 2012.
An exit from the euro and a return to the drachma could not just make the financial situation for Greek labs much worse; some experts have argued that Greece would have to leave the European Union if it drops the euro, which scientists worry could imperil E.U. research funds. Costas Fotakis, Greece's vice minister for research and innovation, told ScienceInsider that those worries were baseless.
In the wake of the referendum, negotiations between Greece and the so-called trojka will resume, and European leaders signalled today that a new deal that could stave off a Grexit is still possible. The surprise resignation of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a thorn in the side of Brussels, “could be a signal that the Greek side is ready to make serious proposals and accept the consequences,” Mitsos says. “The signs are that the government is determined to pursue a viable solution with the rest of Europe,” says Nektarios Tavernarakis, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Heraklion. “I hope that logic will prevail and a solution will be found. Otherwise, it will get really bad.”
“We all hope for the best,” adds ichthyologist Maria Stoumboudi of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Anavyssos. “We are trying not to be overtaken by fear.”