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EU governments slash Horizon 2020 top-up in half

Incoming budget head Günther Oettinger says the research programme will receive an extra €200M – and not €400M as proposed. Top universities say this is “peanuts” next to the €2.2B taken from Horizon 2020 to fund the Juncker Plan

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Horizon 2020 will only get half of the €400 million increase in funding proposed by the European Commission in the mid-term review of EU’s seven-year budget , Günther Oettinger, incoming controller of the purse strings, has told MEPs.

Oettinger, who was endorsed as the new budget Commissioner on Thursday, said Horizon 2020 will get a €200 million increase, half the amount the Commission proposed last September.

Facing MEPs in a hearing on his move to become overseer of the EU budget, Oettinger also revealed that a proposed €200 million increase for the Erasmus+ student and academic exchange scheme will be halved to €100 million. “I am aware that the result may not meet all the well-justified expectations,” Oettinger said in his submission to MEPs.

Member states, which carry the largest influence on EU spending, want to direct additional funding to other areas, in particular a new youth unemployment initiative.

Research groups were disappointed at the announcement, which still has to be cleared by the European Parliament. Horizon 2020 is due to get the extra money as part-compensation for the €2.2 billion that was taken from the programme in 2015 to fund the Commission’s Juncker Plan investment fund.

“It’s a double pity since an entire Commission, including Oettinger, agreed on a €400 million top-up, and this is still peanuts compared to the €2.2 billion Horizon 2020 lost, and of which nothing came back to universities,” said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, an association of top universities.

“We are clearly disappointed that such a minimal amount will return to the programme. This amount is not up to the ambitions of the programme in terms of both participation success rates and objectives to be achieved,” said Lidia Borrell-Damián, director of research and innovation with the European University Association.

In October, Director-General for Research at the European Commission Robert Jan-Smits said the money had been earmarked for “four major initiatives”. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their status. A Commission spokesman for research said “talks are on-going”.

The midway assessment of the EU budget is an opportunity for governments, the Commission and Parliament to adjust its priorities and respond to new challenges.

A deal on the mid-term revision should be finalised, “within the next couple of months,” said Oettinger.

An evaluation of Horizon 2020 will be completed by a team of experts hired by the Commission later this year.

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