21 Jun 2019   |   News

Deadlocked European leaders delay budget deal again

Decisions over research, farm and other EU budgets postponed to the end of 2019, as EU Council divides over top EU leadership jobs

EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk at a press conference in Brussels. Photo: European Commission

European leaders, battling over who will get the top jobs in Brussels this year, once again postponed action on the EU’s long-term budget – pushing big decisions over farm, development and research spending into next winter, at the earliest.

The delay will shorten the time the European Commission has to prepare the next round of long-term spending programmes, scheduled to start in January 2021. The Commisson’s proposed budget includes €94.1 billion over seven years for research and innovation, in the Horizon Europe programme – but the EU member-states and Parliament are divided over that, as well as over the size of the entire €1.1 trillion EU budget authorisation for the 2020s.

At a European Council summit on 20 June, prime ministers and presidents agreed only  to discuss the budget again in October and aim for a deal by the end of the year. Finance ministers and diplomats will continue negotiations in the meantime. The original plan had been for a decision in May; but that was pushed back to October – and now to end-2019.  

The delay adds urgency to the question of whether Horizon Europe, the EU’s next big research funding programme, will be ready to begin as soon as the current programme, Horizon 2020, expires at the end of next year. Although the research topics and structure of Horizon Europe are mostly agreed and preparations for implementation have already begun, the programme cannot start until there’s an overall budget agreement for 2021-27.

Once EU leaders do strike a deal, there are still several more steps to go through in order to adopt the budget as law and to finalise the programmes it will fund. The current 2014-2020 financial plan wasn’t in place until a month before its start date, and ten months after the initial agreement in the European Council. Horizon 2020 began on time – but only just.

Budget aside, the headline issue at the summit was over who will be chosen to run the EU institutions later this year. European leaders  failed to agree on their picks for the successors to Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, and Donald Tusk, the European Council president. They will try again at the next summit on 30 June. Juncker is due to leave office along with the other commissioners on 31 October and Tusk’s term ends on 30 November.

Last week, budget commissioner Günther Oettinger said he wanted Juncker and Tusk to be able to sign-off on a budget agreement before they leave office, and called on member states to produce a roadmap that would get them to an agreement by October.

More for researchers, less for farmers

In the Commission’s budget proposal, increased spending on research – to €94.1 billion from the current seven-year budget of €77 billion - would be paid for with a mix of increased contributions by rich countries like Germany and cuts to cohesion funds intended to help less wealthy nations like Romania and Bulgaria catch up. Agricultural subsidies paid throughout the union would also be cut.

That leaves member states locked in difficult negotiations on several points, including how much to spend on Horizon Europe, but the budget cannot be adopted until they agree unanimously.

Despite deadlock over the budget and the future presidents, European leaders were however able to agree on a broad brush-strokes five-year plan for the EU’s overall direction, which emphasises the importance of “addressing the fragmentation of European research, development and innovation.”

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up