03 Jul 2020   |   News

MEPs say industry partnerships do not match EU political goals

Conservative MEPs on the industry committee say more coordination is needed to ensure Horizon Europe can work with the private sector to develop and implement technologies that will underpin the transition to green and digital economy

Christian Elher

Christian Elher, MEP. Photo: European Parliament.

The funding programmes needed to develop new technologies for the green and digital transition do not match political ambitions of the EU, MEPs say.

In a position paper published this week, European People’s Party (EPP) MEPs in the European Parliament’s industry committee point out that while Horizon Europe is expected to contribute significantly to the EU’s green and digital transformation, it lacks a “coherent funding and timeframe” in relevant Joint Undertakings with industry and there is no “methodology to boost the needed technology.”

“Many of the technologies we need to drive forward decarbonisation and digitalisation are yet to be developed,” the paper notes.

Christian Ehler, the German MEP who drafted the paper, told Science|Business the plans for a sustainable and digital recovery should set clearer priorities and have a common methodology, enabling them to work in synergy. “Shouldn’t there be an attempt to bring them together?” he said.

The EU is working on a new climate law as part of a push to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2030. Ehler says the law will result in transformative changes in the industrial sector if it achieves its goal of making transport and steel production carbon neutral.

“How could you imagine that this is going to happen if the technologies you need in [the next] decade are not [in existence] yet,” Ehler said.

If these transformations do take place, the impact will be nothing short of a “revolution”, but Ehler said, the EU has no route map for how it will make steel production and aviation carbon-free by 2030. “We need to have a concrete plan on how to achieve this,” he said. EU climate ambitions over the next ten years should be embedded in an overall strategy that sets targets for research, innovation, infrastructure, industry, energy efficiency and digitalisation.

“There are ways to structure that and to make sure synchronisation with other funds is a binding obligation,” said Ehler.

Covering all angles

As part of Horizon Europe, the commission is planning industrial partnerships in steel, aviation and hydrogen energy, to develop and implement technologies Europe needs to nudge its economy into a green and digital era.

According to Ehler, the partnership plans should be linked to the infrastructure investments that are needed to bring these technologies into use, such as adapting natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen. “Without infrastructure you might not see much hydrogen,” he said.

Co-creation takes time

EU commissioner for research and innovation Mariya Gabriel said the commission is working on establishing how the R&D programmes are synchronised with the broader political ambition of reducing carbon emissions by industry, but wants to conduct broader consultations with stakeholders first. “We will not be credible if the political objectives are not followed by the technology,” Gabriel said. “A little bit more work is needed to reach an adequate alignment.”

But time is running out, with the pandemic having upended the policy agenda in Brussels, leaving the commission, together with the council and the parliament, less than six months to agree on the final details of Horizon Europe, including research partnerships with industry. “We are still working on the [research] partnerships. Over the next few months, the work will be intense,” said Gabriel.

Progress mainly depends on how fast member states can conclude negotiations on the EU’s seven-year budget due to start in January 2021.

Recovery with strings attached

The current budget proposal foresees €94.4 billion (in 2018 prices) for Horizon Europe, including a €13.5 billion boost from the pandemic recovery fund. Ehler is one of the proponents of a bigger €120 billion budget and argues this is the minimum amount needed if the EU is to achieve the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. “Some of the proposals of the commission have always been lacking the needed funding,” he said.

In addition, Ehler says the EU should impose conditions on member states to make sure the recovery fund is spent on projects that align with broader strategic plans. Ideally, there should be a link between public spending at EU and national levels and the goals of the recovery fund. “We should avoid that EU and national priorities are contradicting each other,” he said.

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