Why will the appointment of Pedro Duque eventually let you down?

As a Spanish aerospace engineer like him, I am proud of us as a collective represented at the highest level of the Spanish Society, and I wish him the best in this new challenge as Science, Innovation and Universities Minister. At present he has my full confidence, and I truly hope Pedro Duque will do the best in his new position. However, a slight voice in my thoughts is telling me that we are going to be let down in this regard.

‘Such a doomsayer!’ I am quite sure you are thinking. But I fully support the theory of analysing different points of views, the more diverse the better, to forge a strong opinion by oneself. So let me present my reasons and then structure your own thoughts:

Lots of years orbiting in the elite

Pedro seems to be distant from the daily life of researchers and scientists in Spain, begging for subsidies and budget extensions every day and having a poor income and a more than precarious and uncertain job contracts. Universities and R&D seem to be closer to his fields of interest and expertise. Will it be enough?

Although hopefully, my judgement will be wrong, there are still many factors out of his area of influence he will have to cope with.

Pedro Duque Spanish astronaut World
Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque embracing the World. / TVE

Tied up due to the inherited budget

An R&D (Research & Development) budget of only the 1% of the Spanish GDP (Gross Domestic Product) whereas the objective set by the EU for 2020 is the 2%. Historically and systematically reduced by previous Governments from €8.4 million in 2009 (1.4% of the Spanish GDP) to €3.2 million in 2016 (1.1% of the Spanish GDP).

Time constraint

Next General Elections in Spain will be held by the end of 2019 giving only a year and a half time to implement some measures and set action policies. No time enough whichever way you look at it.

Political constraints

First time ever the Government in charge has so little power in the Parliament, based on a difficult set of diverse alliances with other political parties.

The situation is even worse by observing the Senate, in which the outgoing Government party has the absolute majority. This majority can be used to block whichever royal decree or legislation initiatives they consider.

Do you remember Obama’s government and the Republicans in Senate? Well, this is not more encouraging indeed.

Reluctantcy to invest in innovation, R&D, and new technologies

Everyone is aware that any amount of money invested in Spain ends up in the brick industry in its vast majority. Even with the deep real state bubble recently burst, it seems that hopelessly trends are not changing.

Business Angels? They are like pink unicorns in Spain: nobody sees them and who assures that they exist is thought to be crazy.

Pedro Duque Spanish astronaut ESA
Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque in an exhibition about Mars in Valencia. / JUAN CARLOS CÁRDENAS / EFE

Marketing based decision?

Finally, if you think about it with a cool head, this decision seems to be purely based on image and promotion. Imagine Andrés Iniesta appointed as Sports Minister, it is not so far from this one.

Whether you share the views exposed or not, what is undeniable is the bravery that Pedro is showing facing this chance. Currently, he is an idol for whoever Spanish people, and getting in into politics in these circumstances is taking the risk of being disliked by the vast majority.

What is the best we can do for him? Lowering a little bit the expectations about his future decisions and their impact concerning the science, innovation, R&D, and universities in Spain.

Good luck Pedro! The better you perform as Minister, the better for us as Society.

Alberto Pascual Márquez
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