Irish leaders said they will push for a budget agreement by summer on the European Union’s proposed research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020 – but many EU politicians predict that will be difficult.
Ireland, under EU rules, takes the rotating EU Presidency through June 30 this year, and in the European Parliament 23 January Irish leaders laid out their policy priorities – a standard ritual of the Presidency. In line with the main Irish objective of promoting stability, jobs and growth, Sean Sherlock, Minister for Research and Innovation, stressed the crucial contribution of R&D to Europe’s economic recovery and competitiveness.
Sherlock said that Ireland aims at reaching a compromise on all remaining elements of the Horizon 2020 funding package before Lithuania takes over the EU Presidency on July 1. Sherlock said “it is vital, therefore, that we make progress as speedily as possible to ensure that there will be sufficient time to give effect to the necessary legislative procedures to implement Horizon 2020 from the start of 2014”. The first ‘trilogue’ meeting on Horizon 2020 will be attended by representatives of the Parliament, Commission and Council and held on January 31.
Many Commission and Parliamentary officials, however, are betting it will take much longer to settle the budgetary dispute – perhaps into December of this year, a delay that would cause serious budgetary problems for many European universities and research institutes dependent on EU research funding. First, EU leaders would have to reach an agreement on the overall EU budget for the next seven years – the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework, or MFF. Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and a few other countries are strenuously pushing the EU to scale back its proposed €1 trillion, seven-year budget as a response to economic hardship. Last November, budget negations broke down because Member States failed to agree. At the beginning of the semester, the Irish Presidency confirmed full support to President Hermann Van Rompuy to reach an agreement on the EU budget.
Horizon 2020 is 8 per cent of the total budget – or €80 billion, under the Commission’s proposal. But, members of Parliament say, one possible outcome is a 20 per cent cut in the broad ‘competitiveness’ budget line in which Horizon 2020 sits; that would set off a second, months-long tussle to divide up that pot of money between Horizon 2020 and related programmes. The bottom line, Horizon 2020 supporters fear, could be a commensurate cut in Horizon 2020 itself – meaning annual spending on research and innovation would drop in 2014 by more than €1 billion from 2013. Many MEPs, generally supportive of R&D funding, are threatening to block a budget deal if that transpires – meaning that, under EU rules, the 2013 budget would simply roll over to the next year, avoiding any major cut.
The Irish, however, are hoping to avoid that kind of political brinksmanship. Speaking to MEPs, Sherlock said that it is essential to secure appropriate funding for research and innovation and that he was pleased to see the European Parliament’s endorsement
to Horizon 2020 budget last autumn.
The Irish Minister confirmed that simplification is a priority of Horizon 2020 to ensure easier access to funding and a more effective use of funds. In particular, he highlighted the importance of achieving the right balance between simplification and flexibility to allow successful implementation of the new €80 billion research programme.