The European Commission is working on a new proposal for its 2021-2027 multiannual budget, which is to be paired with a recovery plan aimed at helping the EU come out of the looming recession set in motion by the coronavirus pandemic.
Here, we gather the latest news and reactions to how the EU is planning to fund its research and innovation programmes during the difficult period ahead.
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EU research ministers today are holding their first meeting under the German Presidency, where they will discuss building a more powerful European Research Area (ERA), national and European hydrogen strategies and the new presidency‘s priorities.
Germany’s research minister, Anja Karliczek, who announced the programme before the informal meeting this morning, said the first discussion will address consolidating European and national research and innovation activities to make Europe more resilient. ”As part of this, we want to make the European Research Area more effective and more dynamic,” said Karliczek.
Clean hydrogen, which Karliczek called “the fuel of the future”, is the second item on the list. During the meeting, member states will have the chance to discuss the European Commission’s hydrogen strategy, which was revealed two weeks ago, as well as their national plans.
Then, the trio of presidencies that will head the council for the next 18 months, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, will present their priorities.
Karliczek called today‘s programme ‘ambitious’ and said it will be inspired by the EU budget agreement that was reached at the European Council this morning.
Romanian MEP Dan Nica said it is "a wonder" that leaders reached an agreement during the summit but the figures for Horizon Europe are "disappointing."
"Not only the figures are so much lower compared to the Parliament position and to the latest Commission proposal, but they show that Member States decided not to invest in the future," said Nica. "It is a missed opportunity!"
The new EU budget deal reached today is not a ‘historical’ deal as some EU leaders called it but a ‘historical low’ for research, according to the League of European Research Universities (LERU).
“The only historical element LERU is seeing is that, indeed, the proposed budgets for research, innovation and health have been butchered in an unprecedented way,” said Kurt Deketelaere, the president of LERU.
Now, LERU is calling on the European Parliament, which will vote on approving the new budget, to reject the deal and demand a bigger research budget.
German MEP Christian Ehler, one of the two co-rapporteurs for Horizon Europe said the new budget deal is bad news for economic growth and competitiveness. “It’s a no for innovation,” he said. “This deal will cement Europe's fall behind its global competitors in Asia and [the US].”
According to Ehler the budget deal has “killed” EU’s all ambitions to reduce its carbon footprint by 55 per cent over the next decade, as transformative changes of Europe’s industrial sectors could be delayed by the lack of funding.
“In the end, the compromise was to spend less money on the recovery and lose all ambitions on innovation,” said Ehler.
“[The deal] will lead to a Europe falling apart in terms of R&D and innovation when stronger member states like Germany already started to raise their R&D budget beyond 3 per cent of the GDP and develop their national programmes on key technologies like quantum and AI,” said Ehler.
Reacting to the new €80.9 billion Horizon Europe budget deal, the research community took to Twitter this morning to let off frustration with the significantly lowered research budget agreement.
Piere Deschamps, a former advisor on energy and climate matters to the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, tweeted he was 'sad' that Horizon Europe ended up being “a collateral damage of the loans Vs grants debate”, referring to the €8.5 billion shaved off the EU research programme’s share of the recovery loan fund.
Joep Roet, a policy adviser at Neth-ER, pointed out the new proposal makes up only 4.5 per cent of the new seven-year EU budget, while the share of Horizon 2020, the previous EU research programme, was about 7.1% of the total EU budget for 2013-2020. “So much for ‘modernisation’,” Roet concluded in his tweet.
Similarly, Kurt Deketelaere, the president of the League of European Research Universities, called the new agreement “a historical low for R&I”.
Saara Harjula, an EU affairs advisor at the University of Helsinki, called on the European Parliament, which will now vote on the new budget deal, to have “a strong voice on this”.
EU leaders have agreed on a total budget of €80.9 billion for Horizon Europe, in the fifth day of a marathon summit to debate the EU’s long-term budget and a post-pandemic economic recovery plan.
The final figure is significantly lower than a proposes €94.4 billion put forward by the European Commission in May, as the budget for the R&D programme has been cut multiple times throughout the summit.
In an attempt to move talks forward, EU Council president Charles Michel has put forward another proposal which includes a cut of €6.5 billion to Horizon Europe, on top of €2 billion proposed over the weekend.
The new proposal gives more ground to the four frugal member states and Finland, who are pushing for less grants and more loans in the pandemic recovery fund. Before the budget summit started, Horizon Europe was slated to get a €13.5 billion boost from this fund, but it may end up receiving only €5 billion after this part of its budget was trimmed twice during the negotiations.
According to a document seen by Science|Business, the core budget of Horizon Europe remains untouched at €75.9 billion (2018 prices).
The changes have prompted Paul Webb, the commission’s head of unit for budget and long-term budget synergies, to say on Twitter that he finds it “disturbing that [Horizon Europe] seems to be the cash cow in the [budget] negotiations.”
The proposal also scraps the EU4Health programme and leaves the InvestEU programme with only €2.1 billion from the recovery fund.
Research groups today warned that the EU’s next big research programme, Horizon Europe, could suffer further cuts, as governments prepare to meet for the fourth day to hash out agreement on the bloc’s COVID-19 recovery stimulus budget.
“Once again research and innovation are first sacrificed in order to reach a compromise,” said Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy development with the European Universities Association.
“Those European leaders, including the frugal four [Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden] who have spoken out in favour of investing in research, innovation, education, digitisation and the Green Deal, may now be more concerned about getting across their key points about the size and functioning of the recovery package”, than about the overall size of Horizon Europe, Estermann said.
On the table today for leaders are cuts totalling a potential €7 billion for Horizon Europe, which will run from 2021 to 2027.
Should the overall package “really turn out to be negative, the ambition in Horizon Europe must be reconsidered and, above all, more investment in fundamental research must be ensured,” Estermann said.
EU leaders need to urgently “wake up” and save the bloc’s research budget from a “dismantling” at today’s crunch EU leaders’ summit, says Marta Agostinho, coordinator of EU-Life, an alliance of 14 life science research institutes.
“This is not about [governments’] own power show, it is about the wellbeing of the citizens of their countries. My fear is that leaders, blind by their own short-termism and populism, support the dismantling of European research as it is proposed now.
“In a time when politicians and citizens look to science to find the miraculous solution to the COVID-19 crisis, the top leaders decide to cut the research budget – how insane is this?” she said.
Agostinho said member state leaders can still reject a proposal to trim billions of euros off the research budget, but she warned that “time is running out.”
“The budget cuts put forward during these last few days and months represent an unprecedented slashing of European research, with negative impact for decades to come.”
She said the hard negotiating stance shown by the Netherlands, and the other so-called frugal countries, was like “shooting yourself in the foot.”
“None of these countries will be able to face any health or climate crisis alone,” she said.
EU leaders have to show an “exceptional degree of maturity and responsibility” to get a budget deal passed today, says Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.
“Citizens and entrepreneurs expect a strong message,” the head of government said, adding that leaders were “moving towards an agreement” on the almost €2 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan.
The budget floated at the EU leaders’ summit over the weekend suggests governments are willing to shave €2 billion from the recovery aid portion of the EU’s next big research programme, Horizon Europe. It follows a proposed €5 billion cut to the programme put forward by EU Council president Charles Michel 10 days ago.