24 Nov 2016   |   Viewpoint

MEPs urge Juncker to bridge east-west pay gap in Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020-funded researchers in poorer countries of the EU are paid less than if they worked on projects funded by their national governments. Two Romanian MEPs have written to Jean-Claude Juncker to complain about this discrimination

Two Romanian MEPs have sent letters to EU President Jean-Claude Juncker criticising the European Commission for introducing salary rules that result in “meagre hourly amounts” for Horizon 2020 grantees working in poorer regions of the EU.

The European Commission has “reinterpreted and narrowed” the rules for paying researchers working on Horizon 2020 projects, and introduced the concept of ‘basic salary’ as the main instrument for the payment of researchers under Horizon 2020, says a letter MEP Sorin Moisă sent to Juncker last week.

As a consequence, the salaries of researchers working on Horizon 2020 projects are tied to basic salary levels in the country where they work. Researchers in poorer countries in the EU are paid less than they would if they worked on projects funded by their national government. The rule’s negative impact seems to be affecting more the countries with lower Horizon 2020 participation levels.

MEP Daniel Buda also pointed to “grave inequities” in Horizon 2020 salaries in a letter he sent to Juncker earlier this month. “Researchers who won [Horizon 2020] grants do not want them, or they seek to move the projects [to] Western Europe,” the letter reads. Buda warned Juncker that if not solved, the problem will accelerate “European inequalities.”

The original document laying out the rules for Horizon 2020 does not include this restriction, and under the previous Framework Programme 7, “this problem did not exist,” said Moisă. This rule “invites very good researchers to leave and apply [for Horizon 2020 grants] within teams [based] in Western Europe, where the basic salary is higher,” Moisă said yesterday.

Last week, a group of researchers at the Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania refused to sign a Horizon 2020 grant agreement worth €300,000, because of this rule. ”For what they’re paid, it’s not worth the effort," Daniel David, the University’s Pro Rector, told Romanian news website Hotnews.

This is becoming “a painful matter in Romanian public opinion,” says Moisă.

Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for research and innovation, acknowledged new provisions for additional remuneration have led to reduced salaries for Horizon 2020 researchers working in some countries. “But it is the opposite impact of what was intended,” said Moedas in a speech on Wednesday.

Moedas reassured researchers that he is committed to solve the issue and promised to “come forward with a solution in the next couple of months.”

“I want to make sure that researchers who take part in Horizon 2020 will receive at least as much as they do for national projects,” Moedas said.  

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