The European Commission will walk back cuts to the Horizon 2020 research programme after a deadlock agreement was reached this morning following all-night negotiations.
Three Horizon 2020 budget lines, the European Research Council (ERC), the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the ‘widening participation’ programme, have had their budgets ring-fenced.
MEPs, the Commission and member states struck a deal on the vexed issue of how best to finance Jean-Claude Juncker’s new stimulus fund at 8am on Thursday.
On the eigth round of talks, the Commission gave in to MEPs and scientists who said a proposed €2.7 billion trim to the Horizon 2020 research programme was too much. The money was to constitute a major part of the guarantee supplied by the EU to Juncker’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).
MEPs secured a €500 million reduction on this figure after the Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva agreed to divert an extra €1 billion from EU accounts into the fund.
“Yes we did it!” Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas declared this morning following news of the end of negotiations.
“It’s a great day for research and innovation in Europe. I’m particularly proud of Horizon 2020’s contribution to the [Juncker fund],” he said. The Commissioner was not at the negotiations last night but dialled in at 4am, officials say.
The ERC originally faced cuts of €221 million between 2016 and 2020 while the Marie Curie fund supporting scientists to move around Europe to do their research, was on the hook for €100 million. The widening participation programme, which sprinkles money on low-income regions to help them improve their research performance, stood to lose around €34 million
The Budget Commissioner said there is scope to revise cuts to other Horizon 2020 sub-programmes, such as the European Institute of Innovation & Technology budget which will lose €350 million from its budget between 2015 and 2020, though for now it is understood the cuts will remain as proposed by the Commission in January. Other cuts include €307 million for ICT research, and €170 million for nanotechnology and advanced material projects.
Details on a possible rebate for other sub-programmes remain vague with some officials saying the process for doing this has yet to be fully fleshed out.
Today’s concessions are seen as a response to committed lobbying by scientists which culminated in a meeting at the Berlaymont on 13 May between Juncker, Moedas and six Nobel laureates.
Moedas today recounted the significance of the meeting saying “The president himself said [to the scientists]: Look, I will try to minimise any contribution from fundamental science [to the fund].”
In principle, the Juncker fund could generate up to €315 billion euros in private- and public-sector investment to upgrade infrastructure, and stimulate the EU's sluggish economies. But because it will target projects close to the market, commentators said it carried little obvious benefit for early-stage research. “For projects below TRL [technology readiness level] 9, there won’t be any funding in [the Juncker plan],” said Christian Ehler, a German centre-right MEP.
Catherine Bearder, a British centre-left MEP, was pleased with the concessions but said the remaining €2.2 billion cut to the Horizon 2020 budget cannot be taken lightly. "The Commission must explain how it will ensure that these cuts do not undermine the EU's competitiveness and long-term economic future,” she said.
One Council insider, portraying the negotiation as the EU’s most marathon sit down yet for a money bill, played down the Horizon 2020 budget loss. “I must be very firm on this: we are not talking about cuts but re-deployments,” the source said.
The deal is likely cleared in a Parliament plenary session on 24 June. “We are counting on Parliament and Council to give the final approval in June so we can have EFSI up and running in Autumn,” Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen said.