08 Dec 2020   |   News

European Research Council leadership jostles for more funding

EU’s top science funding agency says it needs at least €2B more to prevent its budget from ‘stagnating’

European Research Council

Scientists who steer the EU’s flagship science funding agency on Monday implored governments to grant more money to the European Research Council or risk seeing it “stagnate” over the next seven years.

The ERC’s scientific council says the forthcoming Horizon Europe research programme is unbalanced to the detriment of early-stage science, with funding for “frontier science” falling from 32 per cent of the budget in the current Horizon 2020 programme to 25 per cent in the 2021-2027 scheme.

With an annual budget of just over €2 billion in 2019, the ERC distributes money to star scientists to pursue their research.

The current funding is “insufficient”, the 21-strong council argues, because the ERC is receiving “30 per cent more absolutely excellent proposals than the ones it can fund.”

The ERC has been allotted €14.8 billion over the next seven years – an amount that represents a budgetary “freeze”, according to the statement. 

The “absolutely minimal budget that leaves some hope for non-stagnation to the ERC is €16.6 billion,” the council said.

The scientist are appealing to the 27 leaders who meet in Brussels on Thursday to iron out potentially huge differences over the shape of the bloc’s next long-term budget.

EU leaders have to agree on a seven-year budget and COVID-19 recovery package or Horizon Europe simply won’t start next year.

The research scheme lost €13.5 billion from its budget in July, when leaders decided to divert this funding to other areas, such as cohesion funding and the COVID-19 recovery fund. In later negotiations, €4 billion was returned to Horizon Europe.

The scientific council calls the July cuts “shocking” and the €4 billion boost a “small but still significant step to repair the damage”.

EU governments have since pledged €5 billion for research out of its COVID stimulus fund, on the condition that it is spent on collaborative and innovation-focused grants in pillars two and three of Horizon Europe.

The scientific council argues for some of this funding to be redistributed to pillar one, where the ERC and other early-stage research programmes are.

“We clearly see…. a considerable threat for the development of bottom-up frontier research in Europe and to the overall competitiveness of Europe in view of the intensity of the international competition and the massive investments made in other continents,” the statement said.

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