Framework Programme 10 should have a stable and predictable budget, French research minister says

22 Feb 2024 | News

As the EU looks to shape its research and innovation policy to support the economy and strengthen the defence sector, Sylvie Retailleau calls for a ringfenced budget for FP10

Sylvie Retailleau, France's Minister of Higher Education and Research. Photo: European Union

France’s research minister Sylvie Retailleau is joining a growing chorus of politicians asking for an ironclad commitment from EU member states that the next framework research programme, FP10, will not have its budget taken to pieces to fund emerging priorities.

“Science needs a multiannual plan that is predictible and has budgetary stability,” Retailleau told Science|Business.

Speaking one day after the informal meeting of research ministers in La Hulpe last week, she said, “That is not to say that we do not move at all, but there needs to be a commitment for the main thrust of the programme.”

This call is not new, but adds to the clamour from policymakers and politicians advocating for a predictable and stable budget for EU research programmes. 

At the ministerial meeting last week, European research and innovation ministers and Commissioner Iliana Ivanova decried recent cuts to the Horizon Europe budget and raised the alarm for the upcoming FP10, calling on member states to safeguard the budget of the next framework programme for research, in the face of growing pressure to divert EU funds towards other priorities.

This comes after Horizon Europe, had its budget cut by €2.1 billion earlier this month, when member states agreed on a revision to the EU’s long-term budget to allow the bloc to unlock financial aid for war-torn Ukraine.

In addition, the Commission’s grand plan for a Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP) worth €10 billion had also fizzled out, after member states pushed for further cuts to be able to pay for Ukraine aid.

“Research cannot be considered one of the most fundamental levers for action, deployment, and also for the future of the EU, if the budget for the framework programme is under pressure or mishandled,” said Willy Borsus, vice president of Belgium’s Walloon government, during a press conference following the EU ministerial meeting.

But, while the research bubble is convinced of this case, the message needs to get out to finance ministers and prime ministers. Leading MEP Christian Ehler has already urged research stakeholders to start lobbying heads of state and national governments for more money for FP10.

Retailleau said FP10 should have a strong budget and “position the programme as one of the main pillars for strengthening EU’s competitiveness.”

“We see in the history of the framework programme that there is a fight for keeping budgets aligned with the challenges,” she told Science|Business.

Ironically, less than a week after the Science|Business interview with Retailleau, the French government announced a €900 million cut to its research and higher education budget for 2024. This is part of a broader budget rejig of €10 billion to reduce the national debt, because the French economy is growing at a slower pace than projected.

If EU member states continue on the path of budget reductions for national research programmes, it is very likely that pressure will mount on EU programmes such as Horizon Europe and its successor, FP10. Paradoxically, member states also have a say on the budgets of EU programmes as well.

New and old priorities

In Retailleau view, FP10 should boost the budgets of the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Innovation Council (EIC). “It’s clear that we need to keep investments high,” she said.

However, she said the EU research Missions need some further work and to find a way to “unlock” their potential.

In addition to the usual negotiations on the structure of FP10 and which parts get what funding, another debate is brewing in the background.

The Commission recently suggested that FP10 could permit dual use research, ending a 40 year-long commitment to fund only civil research. Military R&D is now being funded separately through the European Defence Fund (EDF).

While the German government will face an uphill battle convincing academia to work on dual use projects, in France there is less stigma around military research. Many publicly-funded universities in Germany are likely to cite their academic freedom and so-called civil clauses that prevent them from working on military projects.

Meanwhile, in France, research institutions have a long history of working with the defence sector, and the Commission’s proposal does not seem controversial.   

“I think that academic freedom and the freedom of universities is something that we should not touch,” said Retailleau. However, dual use research is not “contradictory” to academic freedom, she noted. As former head of Paris-Saclay University,  Retailleau said she had “many teams that had contacts with the defence sector”.

Retailleau also noted that the EU needs to figure out how to maintain academic freedom and open science, while protecting intellectual property from foreign interference. That includes further training on research security.

French researchers who want to go abroad are being trained on patents, intellectual property and data sharing. “There is more awareness in all institutions,” she said. “We tell our researchers before going to China that it would be good not to take their computers with all their data.”

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