Budget squabble slows down strategic planning and partnerships in Horizon Europe

05 Dec 2019 | News

Setting final details of Horizon Europe could be delayed by difficult budget battle between member states

Jean-Eric Paquet. Photo: Lysiane Pons, Science|Business

Drawing up the detailed plans for Horizon Europe could be slowed down if negotiations over the next seven-year budget are not concluded early next year, warned Jean-Eric Paquet, the European Commission’s director general for research and innovation.

Speaking at a meeting of the European Parliament’s industry committee on Wednesday, Paquet said the commission is planning to put together “more specific strategic planning” at the beginning of next year, setting out the content of work  programmes and calls for proposal for the first four years of Horizon Europe, the EU’s ninth framework programme for research and innovation.

“We will have to see how far we can finalise the preparations without knowing the headline figure [of the budget],” Paquet said.

Budget negotiations are grinding on, but the commission is worried about “severe cuts” proposed by the Finnish presidency earlier this week, which would result in a budget below the expectations of the European Parliament and the commission. Instead of each member state contributing of 1.11 per cent of gross national income, the Finns are proposing 1.07 per cent.

That would translate to a €3 billion cut from Horizon Europe.

EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen will meet EU heads of state next week to convince the EU council not to cut the commission’s programmes and safeguard her ambitious innovation agenda.

Until the budget is clarified, the commission will not be able to set out the practical details of industrial partnerships in Horizon Europe either, said Paquet. “Making proposals on partnerships without knowing the budget will be quite challenging,” he said.

However, the commission will go ahead and complete the impact assessments of the research partnerships by March 2020 and draw up a legal proposal in the summer. “Then depending on agreement on [the budget], we can move very quickly,” Paquet said.

Bulgarian MEP Iskra Mihaylova said one way to mitigate potential cuts to the budget would be to pair industrial partnerships and research missions with existing funding instruments, and the structural funds in particular. “The underlying wish is to have an efficient budget, to avoid overlapping and bring effective results,” Mihaylova said.

Although the situation is concerning, Paquet did not want to ring the alarm bells just yet and restrained from drawing any conclusions on the ongoing budget discussions. “No cuts are made yet,” he said, reminding MEPs they will also have a say later in the process, once the council reaches an agreement.

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