Critics mount pushback against €316M proposed cut to 2022 Horizon budget

15 Jul 2021 | News

Research stakeholders in ‘shock’ after EU Council puts forward an amended version of the 2022 budget that sees cuts to Horizon Europe and other innovation-intensive EU programmes

Christian Ehler, Member of the European Parliament. Photo : European Union

Member states want a proposed 2022 budget for Horizon Europe to be cut by €316 million, the EU Council has agreed on Wednesday.

The European Commission’s initial proposal had allocated nearly €12.2 billion for the research and innovation programme. But member states were of the opinion that there was not enough demand for all the money to be spent next year and decided to backload the money to the end of Horizon Europe, which will run until 2027.

Member states also propose the budgets for Digital Europe and InvestEU shrink by €50 million and €45.5 million respectively. The total cuts proposed for 2022 amount to €1.4 billion less than what the Commission had proposed in June.

The cuts were proposed as the European Parliament and Commission are on a campaign to convince member states to invest more money in R&D. MEPs say member states should raise public expenditure on research and development from 0.81% to 1.25% of GDP by 2030, to help the EU achieve targets set by the European Commission’s plan to establish a single market for research in the European Research Area (ERA).

EU commissioner for research and innovation Maryia Gabriel is planning to launch a pact for research and innovation that all member states are expected to sign, committing them to raising R&D investments. The Commission wants more countries to take steps to increase public and private R&D expenditure to 3% of their GDP.

“The EU Council chose to continue its intellectual and political suicide by cutting innovation funding while increasingly agreeing to policies that will require incredible innovation efforts,” said German MEP Christian Ehler in a statement published on Thursday.

Ehler is co-rapporteur for Horizon Europe and has previously criticised member states for failing to allocate €120 billion for the research and innovation programme, to be spent between 2021 and 2027. After lengthy negotiations, EU institutions agreed on a €95.5 billion budget in December last year.

The German MEP warned that additional cuts applied to the 2022 budget are not in line with ambitious policies in climate change that require significant investments in research and innovation.

“Postponing spending to later years does not make sense as we need research to start now, in order to have technologies ready and implemented by 2030 to achieve our objectives,” said Ehler. “rather than postponing spending, including respending of decommitted research funds, we should mobilise as much funds as possible now,” he added.

Research and university associations in Brussels reacted with dismay at the proposal.

Thomas Estermann, director for governance and public funding at the European University association said the move is not in tune with the times, as COVID-19 and climate crises continue to prove that research funding is essential. “It’s also hard to understand when politicians themselves nowadays promote how research has helped to tackle the pandemic and then cut still during the pandemic in this area,” he said.

“Truly shocking,” tweeted Jan Palmowski, secretary general of the The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities. “Do the EU's member states really see Europe's future in cutting down on research and innovation,” he said.

Estermann said the reasoning behind the Council’s decision is unfounded because the EU research programme has always been oversubscribed and underfunded. Less than 12% of Horizon 2020 applications were funded during the previous EU budget. “Everyone knows that we have more excellent proposals than money available,” said Estermann. “This is really disappointing.”

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