Tibor Navracsics, the European education commissioner, on Tuesday (24 March) attempted to blunt criticism of a plan to take €2.7 billion from the European Commission’s research and innovation budget and put it into an investment fund for economic recovery.
He assured academic and business leaders at the Science|Business Horizon 2020 conference that money to be taken from the research kitty, including a large slice from the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), will help generate additional investments of at least €315 billion. Dubbed the Juncker plan after President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, it has been highly controversial amongst researchers, who have come out in droves with a plea that lawmakers refrain from dipping into Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme.
“This is not money lost for innovation,” said Navracsics, a Hungarian who is Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. “On the contrary, [the fund] will provide finance for relatively high-risk proposals which would otherwise find it difficult to raise funds.”
Many university and industry officials, who were counting on receiving some of the funding, have protested news that a large share of the EU Horizon 2020 cuts—€350 million—would be directed at the Budapest-based EIT. With a headquarters staff of about 50, it co-funds large collaborative networks between universities and industry for innovation. The networks – in such fields as sustainable energy and ICT technologies – work together to develop new products and services, and train new engineers and entrepreneurs. The cut would amount to 13 per cent of its budget.
While cuts were “painful”, they should be considered against a sevenfold increase in budget for the institute compared to the 2007 - 2013 budgetary period, Navracsics reminded the audience.
“Let’s think of it as an opportunity,” he said. “There’s been no economic growth since 2008 so it’s time for us to make a contribution.
“Nobody’s happy with cuts but we have to make a bigger effort to revive economic growth.”
Wanted: more researchers in industry
Another piece of Navracsics’ large portfolio is supervision over Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions: grants totaling €6 billion to promote the two-way shuffling of researchers between academia and business. The Commission estimates that 65,000 researchers will receive funding from the programme in the current 2014-2020 cycle.
“Mobility raises quality,” was the Commissioner’s message, citing a 2014 OECD study which concluded that, on average, the research impact of scientists who change affiliations across national boundaries is nearly 20 per cent higher.
“Europe has relatively few researchers employed in industry,” he said. They make up only 45 per cent of total researchers compared to 78 per cent in the US, 74 per cent in Japan and 62 per cent in China. Marie Curie grants, which he referred to as “jewels in the crown of Horizon 2020”, not only brighten up a CV but help re-balance this picture, said the Commissioner.
Some former grant winners have gone on to move mountains said the Commissoner, before roll-calling researchers linked to Marie Curie actions. This included Stefan Hell, one of the 2014 Nobel Laureates for chemistry and a Marie Curie fellow, and the 2014 Nobel Prize winners in medicine, May‐Britt Moser and Edvard Moser, who both supervised Marie Curie fellows.