08 Sep 2020   |   News

MEP warns parliament will block long-term budget if R&D doesn’t get more money

Debate around the Horizon Europe programme is heating up, as the European Parliament tries to claw back funding lost in the EU budget summit in July

Christian Ehler

Christian Ehler, MEP. Photo: European Parliament.

The European Parliament will not vote through the multiannual budget agreed by EU leaders in July unless funding for research and innovation is increased, German MEP Christian Ehler has warned.

Speaking at a Science|Business conference on Tuesday, Ehler insisted parliament will reach a deal with the European Commission and European Council before the end of the year – and that it will include more money for Horizon Europe. “Be reassured, the parliament won't make a deal with the council, without raising the R&D budget,” he said.

“It might be that we get [to an agreement] on the 23rd of December or something like that, but it will be this year,” said Ehler. Meanwhile, most of the programme has been agreed and Ehler called on the commission to make sure everything is in place for it to start on 1 January.

Once the parliament reaches agreement with the council and the commission, the money for Horizon Europe will have to be divided between its different components, including public-private partnerships, basic research at the European Research Council (ERC), and the new research missions.

In addition to the internal budget split, two more outstanding issues remain: how the programme is synchronised with other EU funding streams, and the association rules under which countries outside the EU can join the programme.

Horizon Europe is slated to get €80.9 billion (in 2018 prices), including a €5 billion boost from the pandemic recovery fund. That is significantly less than the €94.4 billion proposed by the commission.

Despite Ehler’s bullishness, Jean-Eric Paquet, the EU's director general for research said the most significant challenge in the next months will be to reach agreement on a fair division of the slimmed-down budget.

Paquet said he is “extremely unhappy” about the “quite significant erosion” of the R&D budget, which will lead to a series of difficult discussions on where the axe would fall within the programme. “Finding areas to reduce is going to be rather challenging,” he said.

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel noted that the budget proposal is 9 per cent higher (in 2018 prices) than Horizon 2020, and said the €5 billion boost from the recovery fund should not be viewed as “compensation” for the cut agreed at budget summit in July.

Horizon Europe should be implemented with the resources at hand, Gabriel said. “First we need to address what will be possible with these investments …. to support research innovation, and at the same time to be more resilient and more future-oriented.” She will work with the European Parliament and with the stakeholders, to decide how the money is distributed across the different pillars in Horizon Europe to best effect.

Despite his frustration at the cuts, Paquet claimed the commission’s ambitions in digitalisation and green technologies “remain achievable.” The commission is not about to rip up long-term technology roadmaps and it will continue investing in R&D, he said. “In aviation, if you want clean fleets [in the future], you need to invest now in research. If we’re ground-breaking now, that delivers [low emission] engines in 2035,” Paquet said.

That begs a question: with less money for the commission to play around with, would Paquet support a larger share going to early stage research? “I don’t need to have a view on that,” he said. “It should not be commission staff telling you what the right [proportion] is.”

The European Research Council, which funds frontier research, “is under real pressure as is the rest of programme,” Paquet said. “[ERC president] Jean-Pierre (Bourguignon) makes a robust defence for the ERC. Like me, he is extremely unhappy at the budget cuts.”

Budget Horizon Europe

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