Emmanuel Macron 

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Curiosity and irritation meet Macron’s effort to lure foreign scientists to France

Just a few hours after President Donald Trump announced on 1 June that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in a video to “make our planet great again” by intensifying efforts to combat climate change—and inviting U.S. researchers who might be unhappy with Trump to work in France.

The French government followed up on 8 June by unveiling a website aimed at attracting foreign scientists with 4-year grants worth up to €1.5 million each.

But though some U.S. researchers say the invitation is intriguing, it has irritated some French scientists, who say the move raises concerns about their nation’s commitment to homegrown science. In particular, some French researchers are disappointed that the new Macron government offered grants to foreign researchers before answering their own recent call to shore up funding for struggling research institutes.

“Instead [of a commitment to stable domestic science funding], we get a fancy website which is more an empty shell than anything else,” says Olivier Berné, an astrophysicist and CNRS researcher at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France. He helped organize the March for Science in France, as well as a letter from 1500 scientists to France’s research minister that spelled out 10 funding priorities for the new government.

The new recruiting website is the result of roundtable discussions among government ministers, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and economic representatives that took place last week. It asks researchers to fill out a short form asking why they want to fight climate change and to describe their proposed research. It offers 4-year grants of up to €1.5 million for scientists with more than 15 years’ experience, and €1 million for scientists with more than 2 years’ experience following their Ph.D. It says grant winners will get French residency rights—and their spouses the right to work—and promises to deal with the administrative and practical issues associated with the relocation.

At first, some French scientists thought the website was a fake, says Berné, in part because it doesn’t specify how many grants are available or where the funding is coming from. But after it became clear it was real, some also became annoyed at what they saw as more of a communications campaign than a commitment to tackling climate change. The effort is “not at the level of what French research really requires today to be a leader on the international scene,” Berné says. He’d rather see the government first commit to funding French laboratories properly, he says. Then, “when this is done, all the scientists including those working on climate change can work properly, and can invite American colleagues also to come.”

… both a publicity stunt and a real opportunity.

David Blockstein, National Council for Science and the Environment

One U.S. scientist, David Blockstein of the nonprofit National Council for Science and the Environment in Washington, D.C., sees Macron's invitation as “both a publicity stunt and a real opportunity.” He believes it is “not likely many American scientists will take up the offer,” but says the invitation offers a “sharp contrast to an increasingly hostile U.S. political environment for science.”

But some key questions, Blockstein adds, are “whether France will also offer increased opportunities to its own scientists to collaborate with their colleagues,” and “whether funding for American scientists will cause competition and resentment from French scientists.”