The European Union needs to get its house in order - and fast says Christian Ehler, German MEP. Proposed cuts to the budget of Horizon 2020, the EU’s €80 billion research programme running from 2014 – 2020, will have a ruinous effect on the stature of EU research in general.
“We are at the very start of Horizon 2020’s race, but we’re risking the firing pistol being shot at the sprinter,” he said.
A snowball effect, which means that each year the European Commission finds itself with far more bills than money to pay them, has left European member states - currently poring over the EU’s budget for next year - threatening a €1 billion cut in the EU’s research budget.
This affects contractual obligations under Horizon 2020 for this year and next, said Ehler, who sits on the Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE).
“The casualties are much broader and far reaching than the €1 billion figure,” Ehler said. “I’m not exaggerating. Why on earth will large research institutions, not to mention small business, go through the process of applying for EU research money if there’s a doubt over when they’ll receive payment?”
If something is not done, the EU will see a shortfall of over 40 per cent of funding commitments to researchers by 2020, he added.
Ehler’s comments echo those of the outgoing Commissioner for Research, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who last month said that failure to find a solution for cascading budget commitments, “Would seriously put into question the reputation of the EU as a reliable funder of research.”
The chamber is largely in agreement. Gérard Deprez, a Belgian MEP who sits with the liberal ALDE group said, “We need extra money. Member states have extra money they could mobilise.”
“The consensus among groups on this issue tells you something about the gravity of this situation,” he added.
“We have no strategy for getting out of crisis unless we kick-start re-industrialisation,” said Jerzy Buzek, Polish MEP and chair of ITRE. “We cannot create new jobs like this.”
Tough talks loom
Three-way negotiations, between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission, on the 2015 budget are to begin next week (28 October), the start of a 21-day conciliation effort.
Failure to reach a deal by 17 November would, in theory, mean that the Commission would have to drum up a new proposal.