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Austria performs U-turn over CERN pull-out

19 May 2009 Michael Banks
Hahn has changed his mind

The Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann has said that Austria will not be pulling out of the CERN particle–physics lab after overruling the science minister’s decision last week to leave CERN.

Researchers in Austria were left shocked when Johannes Hahn, Austrian science minister, announced on 8 May that the country would cut its funding for CERN worth around €20m per year.

They warned that Austria would become “second–class” citizens at CERN if the pull-out went ahead and quickly started an online petition in protest, which so far has received over 32 000 signatures.

Austria has been a member of CERN for over 50 years — a whole host of Austrian scientists are linked to CERN and will continue to do so in the future Werner Faymann, Austrian chancellor

Now, however, Austria, a founding member of CERN, will not leaving the 20-strong membership of CERN. “Austria has been a member of CERN for over 50 years — a whole host of Austrian scientists are linked to CERN and will continue to do so in the future,” said Faymann at a new conference with Hahn.

“I am pleased and also relieved,” Christian Fabjan, director of the Institute for High Energy Physics at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, told “I think the chancellor gave overriding importance to Austria’s standing as an international partner.”

The threat of a pull-out comes only months before the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — the world’s biggest particle accelerator — is due to start up following a magnet failure shortly after it turned on last September.

Austrian contributions

Austria has contributed to building the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the four big detectors at the LHC, which will search for the Higgs boson and look for evidence of physics beyond the Standard Model, such as supersymmetry, or extra dimensions. Austria currently supplies 2.2% of CERN’s budget with the rest coming from the lab’s other 19 member states. However, the €20m that Austria spends on CERN makes up 70% of Austria’s funding for international research.

Physicists in Austria were particularly angry as the science budget has been increased by 15% this year, while the cost of membership at CERN currently amounts to around 0.5% of the total science budget.

The proposed pull-out led to a storm of protest in the Austrian media with the popular daily newspaper Oesterreich running the headline: “CERN clash: government in a black hole”, which pictured Hahn and Faymann falling through space.

Austria would have been the third country to leave CERN. Yugoslavia, one of the 12 founding members left in 1961 and never rejoined, while Spain joined in 1961, left in 1969 and then rejoined in 1983.

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