EU research lobbies team up to ask for R&D budget boost

15 May 2024 | News

Stakeholders launch Research Matters campaign, a joint call to increase R&D funding at EU and national levels

Photo credits: Maksim Labkouski / BigStock

In a flurry of position papers released over the past few months, research lobbies have been calling for a €200 billion budget for FP10. Now, some of those organisations have teamed up to make their requests louder and stronger.

“We must put our strength together,” said Gian-Andri Casutt, president of the European Association of Communication Professionals in Higher Education, an association of higher education communicators in Europe leading the Research Matters campaign.

The initiative, a joint effort among European universities, research bodies, industry partners, and communication experts, aims to engage decision-makers, stakeholders, media and citizens across Europe ahead of the European elections in June, emphasising the pivotal role of research and innovation in tackling global issues.

The joint effort comes at a time when policymakers in Brussels are working on plans for dealing with a stagnating economy and dwindling global competitiveness in the next political cycle, but also for the negotiations on the next EU multiannual budget.

The group’s goals are to  ring-fence and double the budget for FP10, due to start in 2028, and increase national funding for R&D, to reach over 3% of GDP in the EU27 and other European countries.

“It's important that the policymakers both at the EU and at the national level understand that if you want future competitiveness and resilience, you need to invest in your future, and that is higher education, research and innovation,” Julien Chicot, head of research and innovation policy at The Guild of Europe-Research Intensive Universities, told Science|Business.

According to Research Matters, an increase in funding should also come with a fairer distribution of funds across research fields, including basic science and social sciences.   

“The [current] funding mechanism is not understanding that research and innovation are intertwined and that there is no one without the other[…]. There are much more complex things to research and we are failing to explore them all,” the Young European Research Universities Network  secretary general Silvia Gomez Recio told Science|Business.

“We don't have enough investment in public research and innovation at its basic level,” she said, also emphasising that possible collaborations and excellent proposals don't have any continuation because there is insufficient funding.

Likewise, social sciences and art and humanities struggle to get their share of funding from Horizon Europe, despite the fact  they make a  significant contribution to pushing the knowledge frontier and to developing new ways to address  future challenges, Chicot said.

Money has been shifted out of Horizon Europe in the past to fund other policy priorities, such as health emergencies and support for the semiconductor industry, and the group is also calling for a ring-fenced budget to ensure more efficiency and consistency in research and innovation.

Stakeholders’ push for €200B in FP10

Increasing the budget for the next framework programme is not something only lobbyists are dreaming about. It’s at the top of policymakers’ agendas too.

Marc Lemaître, head of the EU's research directorate, research commissioner Iliana Ivanova, MEPs and others have called for a bigger FP10 budget,whilst lamenting the funding gaps in the past and current framework programmes.

During the closing session of the EU Research and Innovation days event in March, Lemaître said that from 2021 to 2022, Horizon Europe would have needed an additional €34 billion to fund all the excellent research proposals the programme received.

MEPs Christian Ehler and Maria da Graça Carvalho, two of the European Parliament’s top voices on research and innovation policy, were among the first to ask for a doubling of the budget to €200 billion.

National funding

The second focus of the Research Matters campaign is to put more pressure on national governments,  to get more countries to commit to spending 3% of GDP on R&D.

This is a restatement of the target the EU set in 2003. 

That target has only been reached,in Belgium, Sweden, Austria and Germany, according to 2022 Eurostat data. At the opposite end of the scale, eight countries have an R&D intensity below 1%, with Romania at the bottom at 0.46%, followed by Malta on 0.65%; Latvia 0.75%; Cyprus 0.77%; and Bulgaria 0.77%.  

Rather than continuing improvements, there has been a recent reverse and the EU average R&D intensity fell from 2.27% in 2021 to 2.22% in 2022.

“Investing 3% GDP would not only support fundamental research, bolster collaborative research, development and innovationefforts across member states and leverage private investments, but also enhance the use of shared resources, expertise, and infrastructures to address societal challenges that are increasingly transnational in nature and exceed the capabilities of individual countries,” Lidia Borrell-Damián, secretarygeneral of Science Europe, told Science|Business.

“We tend to compare in terms of competitiveness to the US and China,” said Gomez Recio. “But they're also investing much more in research and innovation.”

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