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EU agrees to continue stem cell funding

Despite Germany's efforts to end practice

Ministers from the EU's (European Union's) 25 countries agreed yesterday to continue funding stem cell research, despite efforts by Germany to put a stop to the controversial practice.

Failure to agree would have been a setback for the entire €54bn (about £37bn) research budget for 2007-2013, which includes €9bn (£6bn) of EU funds for research in information and communication technologies. The research budget, dubbed FP7 (framework programme seven), is due to start distribution in January.

Germany tried last week to block funds for stem cell research. In a letter to the Finnish government, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, its research minister Annette Schavan said the EU science program "should not be used to give financial incentives to kill embryos", adding that the current proposal "does not rule this out".

Germany already had the support of Austria, Poland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Malta, but that isn't enough to secure a blocking minority of votes. Slovenia appeared to be considering joining them at the end of last week, but resisted in the end.

No vote was taken as it became clear that the majority in favour of including stem cell research in the budget was large enough to prevent opponents from blocking approval, said Timo Haapalehto, the Brussels-based spokesman on research matters for the Finnish government.

FP7 devotes the largest ever amount of money to information and communication technology research. Projects to benefit from the public funding include the Galileo satellite project, which aims to offer a more accurate alternative to the US GPS technology in use worldwide.

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