Diana Morant (Science Minister): “We’ve got to the point where we despise talent and look under rocks” | 45th Anniversary

Diana Morant (Candia, 1980) greets us in her ministry office, decorated with paintings of Reina Sofia by Valencian artists – a nod to her origins. This reflects the excitement that comes with recording public accounts and the challenge of getting legislation to streamline the bureaucracy before the end of the Legislature.

You have the biggest budget this ministry has ever had, how did you distribute it?

We have twice the budget of Popular Party. We have grown by 20% as a national budget (up to 2,610 million euros) in 2023, and the global budget has doubled with European funds. We are the second largest funder of R&D in Europe. We allocate more money to research and infrastructure development. In many cases, scientists need state-of-the-art equipment in laboratories, and equipment has been called for for decades. We also allocate money to knowledge transfer that takes science and innovation into the practical world. And we’re pulling the business sector to innovate. For example, in Germany, a good country to invest in science, 30% is public and 70% private. In our country we are at a 50%-50% level.

Companies complain that money comes through loans and that it is very difficult to get them.

Companies know that the lines of CDTI are always open to us, our financial institution for the commercial sector. These taxes have a grant component, which has risen by 80% since 2018 with EU funds, and a loan component. They were well received, with 1,771 operations carried out in 2022, with a total budget of 1,253 million euros, of which 888 were financed by the CDTI: 457 million in loans and 432 million in grants.

“With the new permanent contracts, scientists have ceased to be eternal youths, eternal stipend holders”

Diana Morant Ripoll, during an interview in her office.Pablo Monk Fernandez

Is money reaching SMEs?

Kennedy’s mission to put a man on the moon and Prof. Mazzucato’s recovery of that philosophy, we fund private companies. Since 2018 we have introduced three calls. In 2022, six large-scale projects to address the major challenges we face, such as climate change, the circular economy, green hydrogen or cutting-edge therapies. Half the money went to SMEs.

“Half the money from our funding agency CDTI’s work has gone to SMEs”

And Berts…

The best way to work with companies is now with Berte: electric vehicles, space, healthcare, renewable energy… They have a mission philosophy and goals to achieve.

What would you highlight about the space segment?

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The government is investing 3,000 million euros and we intend to mobilize private investment. After the pharmaceutical industry, aerospace is the second most invested sector in research and development. Each of us uses about 200 satellites a day when using our mobile phones, radios or GPS. Many are our everyday solutions for telecommunications, security, climate change and the fight against services. They help us in emergencies like fighting against fire or drought. Also, for the first time, a rocket will be designed, manufactured and launched from Spain by a Spanish company called PLD Space. After 30 years we have new astronauts to join the space race within ESA.

What is the benefit of creating The Spanish Space Agency?

We want to consolidate our leadership position in the space industry in Europe and create new opportunities. For example, companies from our country are going to participate in the development of systems to collect samples from the Martian ecosystem. Because we’re going to get data every four or five hours, today we’re going to launch a constellation with Portugal to improve Earth observation with Copernicus, a system that provides samples every four days.

“Every day we use about 200 satellites through mobile phones, radios or GPS. They help us in many security services and natural emergencies.”

Establishing the headquarters of the space agency in Seville drew criticism from Aragon, Castilla and Madrid.

The news is that Spain finally has its own space agency. We are one of the few countries in Europe that does not have it. It has been 40 years since its creation was talked about. It is an achievement as a country. President Sánchez always says that a better Spain is made from all Spain. These institutions of public state administration create an innovative ecosystem with university centers and institutions settling in their environment, which should be used by the whole of Spain. A competition was held with 21 candidates and Seville won due to objective conditions.

Diana Morant gestures as she comments on the distribution of her ministry's budgets.
Diana Morant gestures as she comments on the distribution of her ministry’s budgets.Pablo Monk Fernandez

Are you planning to increase your stake in any company?

That decision rests with the Ministry of Economy. In the aerospace sector, we work with private companies and investors like Indra or Enair on air traffic control issues. Our investment in space through ESA, which has grown by 50%, returns in opportunities such as the two new ESA-BIC incubators in Castellón and Seville, in addition to those in Madrid and Valencia. Among other initiatives, GMV won a tender for 180 million euros in Australia and New Zealand. The Arrakihs Consortium of Institutions and Research Centers is leading the first ESA space mission. Airbus Spain builds aircraft tail and propulsion with zero emissions using green hydrogen.

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What are the main health goals?

It is one of the basic pillars of ministry. We want new advanced treatments (childhood cancer, diabetes…) to be researched and designed. We are a leading country behind the US in clinical trials and one of the fastest growing countries in treating patients. [la demora supera los 600 días, frente a los 147 de Alemania]. All pharmaceutical companies focus on Spain and conduct trials here.

Once they are patented and become pharmaceuticals, these treatments, which we are capable of researching and developing, must be manufactured in Spain and managed by the National Health System. We are going to create a state-owned commercial enterprise through the Ministry of Science and pharmaceutical companies.

As for the Hibra vaccine, when will it be on the market?

Before the epidemic in our country, we did not have any company producing human vaccine. Hibra, which switched from veterinary vaccines, managed to get the European Medicines Agency to approve and approve its Covid-19 booster vaccine. We have entered the platform of seven countries in the world, and managed to improve it, only in the European Union. The first dose has already been produced and now they have signed commercial contracts.

Why is it so hard to go from lab to sales?

We rank tenth in the world in scientific production, but thirtieth in innovation. We can find a cure but we cannot manufacture it in our country. For this reason, we should warmly welcome the Fraunhofer Institute, a very important institution in the exchange of knowledge, which will settle as a foundation in Barcelona and launch a Research Center for Bioengineering Applied to Health (IBEC) together with the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia. In Bert’s Health, one out of every three euros goes to Catalonia.

Bet on innovative purchases, can you explain?

He is very successful; In many cases, the innovator’s fear is not knowing whether it will have an economic return. What we do is become the first customer of that product. An example is the purchase of two prototypes for the Cáceres Minimally Invasive Surgery Center to help donate organs last longer. It would not have been created if the first customer had not been public.

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“We want to invest 3% of GDP in science by 2030 with the support of municipalities and private investment”

What do complementary programs offer?

We have offered eight schemes that complement other lines of the ministry. Instead of the Spanish government and the Ministry of Science working bilaterally with autonomous communities, we work in a network with 17 autonomous communities. We have invested 465 million euros. The Spanish government holds 60% and 40% autonomy. Biodiversity, climate emergency, water heating… are explored.

You have record budgets, what happens when EU funds run out?

Fortunately, we passed the science bill without any votes against it. The public commitment is to dedicate 1.25% of GDP to R&D by 2030 and achieve 3% by including private investment in line with the objectives of the Science Act. It’s an effort that the autonomies will have to make, and we hope to find a better way to fund science once the recovery plan is over.

Diana Morant Ripoll decorated her office with works by Valencian artists from the State Heritage Collection.
Diana Morant Ripoll decorated her office with works by Valencian artists from the State Heritage Collection.Pablo Monk Fernandez

Do you have anything pending?

We have approved a 25 million scheme to retain and attract talent. We are looking to attract 25 top scientists every year. Before the end of the Legislature, I still have to approve a plan to cut bureaucracy, one of the big demands of companies and scientists. And it’s a huge challenge.

What do you think of Donna?

That science needs to be heard, which is all too clear with Tonana, a sick ecosystem. The biggest problem is over-exploitation of water. The way to cure Tonana is to close illegal wells and continue illegal irrigation. The Andalusian government’s proposal is against the hydrological plan approved by the government and against the ruling of the European Commission. We will lose the UNESCO label.

View the complete pdf of CincoDías’ 45th Anniversary here

Conditions of employment

What is being done to improve employment and retain talent?

We have gone to the point where we despise science and innovation and look under rocks. We are reclaiming our talent. Last year’s call for Ramón y Cajal contracts saw 15% return to Spain, and 25% closed by foreigners.

What do you think about the new contracts for scientists?

With the new law, we have recognized the right to opt out of uncertainty by entering into an indefinite contract. Scientists were considered eternal youths, eternal scholars. It was a giant leap because before that they couldn’t even ask for a mortgage. We have increased compensation for completing pre-doctoral and post-doctoral contracts to build scientific careers, subsidized by the Spanish government.

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