Spain The Country Where Laws Paralyze the Progress of Science

You have to have a lot of courage to be a scientist in this country because the bureaucracy eats you by the feet, “says Francisco Sánchez, a scientist at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) for 35 years. Currently participates in Intemares, a pioneering project to study Spanish marine protected areas funded with almost 50 million euros, “the largest in marine research in the entire European Union,” he stresses. The IEO is in charge of studying the mud volcanoes in the Gulf of Cádiz or the cold water corals of the Bay of Biscay, among other areas of the Natura 2000 Network, but the work has been practically paralyzed since March 2017. It was necessary to hire 25 researchers and technicians to get it going and the administration did not arrive until a few days ago. Now the legal process of oppositions will begin, which will take another five or six months. In total, a year and a half to hire scientists when other partners of the project, such as the Fundación Biodiversidad, subject to more flexible administrative regulations, take 15 days, regrets Sanchez. “We’ve never seen problems like these, ever. We have been in charge of many different ministries but never had a government had so little interest in science, “laments the researcher.

The IEO is a scientific advisory body to the Government in matters of oceanography whose data help to assign fishing quotas and analyze the state of the coast and its fauna. The agency, under the Ministry of Economy and founded in the late nineteenth century, is in a situation of “paralysis”, as recently reported 322 of its 547 workers.

Almost all the problems that the IEO scientists have are reminiscent of “come back tomorrow.” Or better next year. The Francisco de Paula Navarro, one of the five ships of the IEO, is anchored with the engine seized since February 2017. The study on the banks of sardines and other species of commercial interest has been waiting for months to hire an expert DNA researcher that can analyze the data collected. Some scientists work in shabby improvised labs in old garages. The processing of purchases and contracts essential to start projects is a “Kafkaesque loop”, as defined by a researcher. Anyone who calls the IEO these days and asks to speak with their press officer will check it on their own flesh. The journalist’s contract is pending renewal for months and until then can not work.

One of the causes of this situation is a law whose objective is to combat corruption. Since 2014, public research organizations (OPI), like the rest of the administration, have been subject to prior fiscal intervention, which translates into the deployment of tax inspectors in the research centers that review each procedure, each expense, before approving it. The universities and the Superior Council of Scientific Research were exempt from this rule. In the other seven Spanish IPOs, the comings and goings of files between the intervention and the researchers means that the research projects start with delays of more than one year. The main claim of the researchers of the IEO and other IPOs is that this regulation be lifted.

To this it is added that, until the budgets of 2018 are approved, the IPOs can only spend half of their budgets, the reason that explains, among other problems, that Francisco de Paula is unemployed in Mahón and without an expected date of repair. The engine broke in the open sea and the ship and its crew had to be towed to the port of Menorca by Salvamento Marítimo. “This is a storm that is more than perfect, every time we have less personnel and more bureaucracy”, recognizes José Ignacio Díaz, head of the IEO fleet, a senior official who decided not to sign the protest manifesto. “Complaining is fine, but you can not be ignorant and think that the situation will change just because. I know that the Secretary of State for R & D and the management of the IEO are trying to solve it, but they can not deal with the closure of the Ministry of Finance and its laws. And the laws must be fulfilled yes, or yes, “he says.

The IEO staff has fallen by 20% since 2011, which has exacerbated internal problems. Almost any administrative procedure of its nine oceanographic centers on the coast has to go through the headquarters of Madrid, where there are only two workers in the project unit, three in the staff and three in the recruitment, explains Materia Eduardo Balguerías , director of the IEO, for an organization that manages dozens of projects and an annual budget of about 60 million euros. “The IEO has a structural weakness in its central administrative and scientific management services inherited from the past, which makes it more vulnerable to bureaucracy and less agile to respond to the demands of intervention,” says Balguerías. In his manifesto, the workers accused him of “conformism” for not having denounced the situation publicly. Balguerías’s message to them is: “The IEO is in a difficult situation that I am sure we will resolve,” and adds that it is giving detailed explanations in meetings with each center

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