Any investment decisions made by the new EU Investment Fund need scientific oversight to ensure a return for research and innovation.
This is the message from the great and good of European science in an open letter written in response to the European Commission’s proposal to take €2.7 billion from the Horizon 2020 research programme, and put it into Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s new €315 billion investment vehicle.
Horizon 2020, and basic science in particular, stands to be weakened, which is a “great concern”, science groups including Science Europe, representing national research funding bodies, the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) and the European University Association (EUA) write.
The kind of loan facilities proposed by the new investment Fund already exist at the European Investment Bank (EIB) as well as under Horizon2020’s InnovFin scheme
The hastily-arranged new investment facility, the European Fund for Strategic Investment, was announced by Juncker, in November last year.
The pump priming fund pledges €21 billion of EU money that will in theory leverage in almost €315 billion of venture capital and private funds for infrastructure projects, such as expanded energy grids, research facilities and broadband networks.
Ensuring a return for research and innovation
To make good on the European Commission’s claim that the investment package will provide a return for research and innovation, the authors make several suggestions for how the fund should be managed.
Clear research and innovation criteria should be made explicit before loans are awarded to projects, they suggest.
The governance structure of the fund should allow for scientific oversight. The investment committee, which will decide which projects around Europe will receive support, is currently made up of six independent market experts and one director.
Researchers should be involved in the evaluation of the projects and as independent advisers on the quality of projects proposed by the industry or governments for funding, the letter says.
There is concern from universities that much of the benefit of the new investment fund will pass them by. Only 12 out of 28 governments mentioned universities when in their investment wish lists to the Commission.
“This proposal, ultimately, establishes the worrying precedent that it is acceptable to cut research funding to subsidise other competitiveness-related types of investment,” she writes.
Letter signatories:Conference of European Schools for Advanced Engineering Education and Research (CESAER)
European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO)
European University Association (EUA)
League of European Research Universities (LERU)
Read the letter here