Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association of 21 leading research universities, has called on European finance ministers to stop “putting the thumbscrews” on EU research spending during early negotiations over the 2016 budget.
“It is terrible to witness how finance ministers have become the gravediggers of the EU´s research policy and budget,” Deketelaere said.
He was making reference to what LERU described as “a new attack” on the EU’s €77 billion Horizon 2020 research and innovation budget made on 9 July, when the European Council’s group of finance ministers presented its draft budget for 2016. This included proposals to cut €73.2 million in research commitments – meaning the value of contracts that can be made during 2016, to be paid in future years – and €205.2 million in payments.
The European Commission had earlier suggested ring-fencing €563.6 million for research commitments and €1.42 billion in payments for 2016, but these figures will have to survive the blocking vote of national governments.
Alongside the Council and the Commission, the other main organ in EU money negotiations is the European Parliament, and the three institutions have scheduled a number of meetings in October and November to hammer out an agreement on the budget.
LERU condemned the timing of the proposal, arriving barely one month after a new investment package “the Juncker plan”, swallowed €500 million originally allocated to Horizon 2020. Programmes including the European Institute of Innovation & Technology, ICT and nanotechnology are affected, and stand to lose a significant proportion of their budgets between 2015 and 2020.
Deketelaere claimed these “tiresome and recurrent attempts” to cut research spending send the wrong message, and stand, “in stark contrast with the daily rhetoric on the importance – both at national and European level – of research.”
The cuts made as a result of the Juncker plan are already harmful enough for the Horizon 2020 budget in 2016 and beyond, and further cuts would be unacceptable, said Alain Beretz, president of the University of Strasbourg and LERU chair. “Policymakers seem oblivious to the fact that with each new attack on the Horizon 2020 budget, they seriously erode the credibility of the EU´s and member states´ commitment to research,” Beretz said.
At the end of May the EU’s Budget Commissioner said there was scope to revise cuts to some of Horizon 2020’s sub-programmes, but details on a possible rebate remain vague, with some officials saying the process for doing this has yet to be fully fleshed out.
Three Horizon 2020 budget lines, the European Research Council, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the widening participation programme, were spared any cuts.