12 Jul 2012   |   News

European Parliament to demand more control over Horizon 2020

EU lawmakers want leading figures in Europe’s research and innovation programmes to make regular appearances before Parliament, influential MEPs tell Science|Business

The European Parliament will demand more oversight of the EU’s research and innovation programmes – currently being brought together in the new Horizon 2020 programme - by requiring key figures from the European Commission, and relevant agencies and committees to give regular progress reports in Parliament.

“It is necessary to follow Horizon 2020 throughout its seven year lifespan, not only during the mid-term evaluations,” Teresa Riera Madurell MEP (S&D) who is in charge of guiding the main Horizon 2020 proposal through Parliament, told Science|Business. At present there are no formal subpoena powers, and MEPs want to table an amendment to the Commission’s proposal for Horizon 2020 to boost democratic oversight by obliging officials to appear before the Parliament.

Madurell, who sits on the Research, Industry and Energy (ITRE) committee, explains how in the mid-term review of Framework Programme 7, and in the run up to its successor, Horizon 2020, she has heard many stakeholders in Parliament, but says “Now we want something more systematic.”

Structured oversight

Phillippe Lamberts MEP (Greens) – one of two MEPs on the ITRE committee in charge of steering European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)-related legislation through parliament as Horizon 2020 rapporteur - told Science|Business that Parliament will demand the Director of the EIT appears before Parliament once a year. This should be, “The example of a more structured oversight of the research and innovation policy of the EU. I think we should have those kinds of meetings with all major players of the programme.”

According to Lamberts, Parliament is considering setting up a sub-group of MEPs from the ITRE and the Education committee that “would take as its mission to hear – on a regular basis - the key stakeholders from the Commission but also from agencies who run the programmes.”

Lamberts, who is also a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee, points out that R&D programmes are running behind on democratic oversight compared to other policy areas, “Every quarter, we discuss with the European Central Bank president, and we have very regular exchanges with the Economics Commissioner and the head of the European Investment Bank. And that’s natural - that is part of the normal dialogue that allows the committee to perform.”

Lamberts points out that the current situation – seven year plans with a one-time mid-term evaluation, which he calls a “rather superficial exercise” – stimulates last minute lobbying by stakeholders in the programmes to convince Parliament of their value, saying, “If they convince MEPs along the way that they have a good programme, it will a piece of cake for them to be prolonged.”

Backroom deals

Relations between Parliament and Member States are going through a rough patch, with Member States trying to undermine Parliament’s new co-legislative powers on several occasions recently. The latest row is about a backroom deal in which European heads of state deleted three clauses from the proposed EU single patent law, leading a defiant Parliament to refuse to vote on the proposal.

In another major blow to the Member States, Parliament struck down the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on 4 July, saying the text was too vague, and the intended benefits of the agreement “are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties. (…) the European Parliament cannot guarantee adequate protection for citizens' rights in the future under ACTA.”

The call for more say on Horizon 2020 comes at a time when the European Parliament – as the EU’s only directly-elected body - is gaining in influence, following the increased legislative powers and full control over the EU budget granted to the representatives by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

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