EU Parliament wants a substantially bigger research budget

18 Jan 2018 | News

Research spending should rise to €120B in the 2021 - 2028 budget, despite shrinking EU funds post-Brexit, say MEPs

The European Parliament wants to substantially increase research spending to at least €120 billion in the next seven-year EU budget cycle that comes into effect after 2021.  

The budgets committee published a preliminary position on Tuesday in which it says the current €77 billion research programme, “cannot satisfy the very high demand” from applicants.

This follows a strong commitment last week from the EU Commission to spare research from spending cuts in the 2020s.

Parliament’s proposal is more generous, and confirms a target sum of money for research in line with that previously suggested by several prominent MEPs, including Germany’s Christian Ehler and Poland’s Jerzy Buzek.

The suggestion has heft, given Parliament will get a vote of equal weight to member state governments on the final EU budget. In addition to more money for research, Parliament is also pitching for a tripling of the €17 billion Erasmus student exchange budget, and a ring-fence around cohesion funding for poorer regions and common agriculture policy subsidies for farmers, the two biggest elements in the budget.

Before any of these objectives can be satisfied, the Commission must resolve the thorny issues of where to cut the current budget to make room for new priorities on defence and border security, and how to raise extra revenue to offset the UK's departure, which will deprive the EU of some €12 billion per year.

Boost for health, space and EIT

Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) released its own detailed set of recommendations for the next EU budget this week. These opinions will go to the budget committee, which leads on the file and will adopt Parliament’s final position. 

MEPs on ITRE say they “strongly believe” that health and space research spending needs to increase in the successor to Horizon 2020, Framework Programme 9.

The positive stance on health has been well received by public health organisations in Brussels, many of which fear a broad reordering of EU priorities in the next budget, away from social spending, toward defence and border security.

MEPs also want “a greater focus on implementing research and innovation through joint undertakings.” The Commission supports joint undertakings, or public-private partnerships, to the tune of billions of euros in pharmaceuticals, aeronautics, electronics, hydrogen fuel cells, new factories, construction, chemicals and other process industries. The continuation of these projects has been the subject of debate in Brussels.

ITRE also gives its support to the embattled European Institute of Technology, stressing its continued importance.  

Making up the numbers

Making good the Brexit shortfall, equivalent to an estimated 16 per cent of the entire budget, will require the remaining 27 members to pay more into the joint budget, the Commission and Parliament both say.

The Commission, which is responsible for tabling the EU budget, is recommending an increase in national contributions from 1 per cent of gross national income to 1.1-1.2 per cent over time.

The Parliament, by contrast, thinks members will need to send up to 1.3 per cent of national income to Brussels. It also cites corporation tax, value-added tax, energy and transport taxes as possible sources of new EU revenue.

Most western states, net payers to the EU budget, are against sending more money to Brussels, while poorer, former communist, eastern countries say they should not suffer cuts in the subsidies they get. The Commission has suggested cohesion funding will need to be reduced by 5-10 per cent.

Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra said in an interview with RTL television this week that it would not be fair if the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark, which will “suffer the damage from Brexit, must also pay the bill for it.”

Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar, however, told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday that he would be open to paying more, but only for new initiatives, and on the condition that existing programmes, such as finance for farmers, students, research funding and regional support, are spared cuts.

The EU will set out the budget plan in full in May and aims to have a final agreement on the multiannual financial framework by the end of 2019.

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up