By Richard L. Hudson
‘It’s about the respect’: Science|Business reconstructs how disputes over the demand for equal pay for researchers from poorer EU13 countries played out in negotiations over the planned €94.1 billion R&D programme
One of the clichés of Brussels is the negotiation that goes into the wee hours of the morning. On the night of March 19th to 20th, just such a meeting dragged past 2:30am over a few key issues – chief among them: how much a scientist in Romania or Slovakia is worth to Europe.
The dispute – still far from over – involves the way the European Commission pays researchers when they join European Union projects. In most cases, the Commission reimburses universities and others for whatever they normally pay scientists in their countries. Given the economic disparities around the EU, that leads to some striking pay imbalances: on average, €3,240 a month in its poorer, mostly eastern countries, against €5,260 in the richer north and west.
Unfair, some say. “I think the principle of equal pay for equal work is something which just cannot be denied,” argues Dan Nica, a Romanian member of the European Parliament who was in that late-night bargaining session and proposed a 25 per cent pay boost for grantees from poorer countries.
He offers a hypothetical: “You have a team of five researchers (in a project). Three are from the (rich) EU-15, and two are from the (poor) EU-13. These five researchers deliver the same quality of work… So how can you justify that three of them are paid twice the other two?”
“It’s not about the money,” Nica adds. “It’s about the respect.”
The counter-argument, advanced by the Commission and others: The east-west pay gap is a shame, but you can’t use a European science programme to fix a national economic problem. That’s an issue for another EU programme, “cohesion” funding for regional development.