Scary breaking news : it seems the Italian Government are seriously considering closing INAF, the National Institute for Astrophysics.Warning : the material below is a mixture of fact, rumour, and speculation, so treat with caution until more facts emerge.
In the wake of the Greek situation, budget cut fever is sweeping Europe, including Italy as well as Britain of course. Berlusconi has announced a 24bn euro programme of austerity measures. As well freezing the salaries of civil servants, teachers and professors for four years, they are seriously considering closing INAF. The rumour I hear is that tenured staff will move to CNR (the National Research Council), with non-tenured staff being “sent home”. Worried speculation is that Italian astronomy spending may be cut by 50% overall, and Italy may even leave ESO.
The INAF web site has a link to a letter from the Director, Tommaso Macccaro, to the Italian President. Those of you who speak Italian may be able to figure out a bit more.
This decision apparently happened overnight, without warning, and so has Italian astronomers in a state of shock. But I hear that the hit list of institutions has been changing daily, so who knows what may happen, and there may be cause for hope.
Appropriate addresses for letters of support etc :
Minister Maristella Gelmini
FAX no. +39-06-58492057,
INAF Chair Tommaso Maccacaro
Giorgio Napolitano, Italian Republic, The President,
FAX no. +39-06-46993125
The President, as opposed to Berlusconi, is believed to be a friend of Universities and Research and trying to protect them.