07 Jun 2018   |   News

Horizon Europe budget not big enough, say MEPs

The two rapporteurs on Horizon Europe call for a budget of at least €120 billion.

Christian Ehler (left) and Dan Nica

The budget proposed by the European Commission for the next research and innovation programme is not big enough for Europe to meet global challenges, according to Christian Ehler and Dan Nica, the MEPs that will steer the programme, Horizon Europe through the European Parliament.

The budget “does not live up to the ambitions” put forward by European leaders and research and innovation stakeholders, Ehler said.

Nica, who will be rapporteur on regulation and rules of participation for Horizon Europe, said his party, the Socialists & Democrats, will fight for an increased budget for Horizon Europe of at least €120 billion. “The €97.6 billion proposed by the Commission it not sufficient,” he said.

The Commission has proposed a budget of €94.1 billion for Horizon Europe plus another 3.5 billion for InvestEU, the Commission’s new investment fund for innovation, and €2.4 billion for the nuclear research programme Euratom.

MEPs on all sides are not convinced the proposed budget will match ambitions set out by research and innovation stakeholders and compiled into the Lamy report of 2017.

Nica said he is, “Disappointed that the level of ambition that we had expected, in terms of budgetary means to face such challenges, has not been met.”

The Parliament has vowed to fight for a substantial increase in the budget. “The question is now whether it will be €120bn or €160bn proposed in the Lamy report,” said Ehler, who is a member of the European People’s Party.

Negotiating for a significant budget increase will be difficult, as member states are more worried about cuts made to direct subsidies for farmers and to cohesion funds. Also, the European elections are just around the corner and MEPs will have a difficult time explaining their constituents why more money needs to be spent on innovation to the detriment of agriculture subsidies and cohesion funding.

“I am in favour of an ambitious framework programme,” said Nica, who also argues that the programme should be simpler and better structured than it has been until now. 

Universities not happy either

European universities say that the proposed budget is “decent” but they are unhappy with the way the money has been funnelled through the different pillars of the programme. According to university associations, the Commission’s proposal is not allocating enough money to proven areas of strength, such as the European Research Council and the Marie Skłodowska Curie actions. “We feel very strongly that the budget for ERC should really double,” said Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General of the Guild of European research universities.

The European Research Council (ERC) will have €3.5 billion more than under the current programme, Horizon 2020. But as a percentage of the total programme, the ERC budget has increased less than one per cent. “This in contradiction to the lip service paid to the ERC,” said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU).

The situation is “even worse” for the Marie Curie programme, said Deketelaere. The programme got a 10 per cent increase, but it now represents about 7 per cent of the total programme, compared to 8 per cent under Horizon 2020.

“Programs which have been performing in the past are not rewarded for that,” said Deketelaere. “We will try to do our best to get [the budget] up.”

Companies also said the budget proposal is a step in the right direction, but more effort is needed in all member states to reach the target of spending three per cent of GDP on R&D. “Of course we will need more to close the gap,” said Markus Beyrer, director general of Business Europe. In addition, the Commission needs to work a bit more on making the rules for public private partnerships in research smoother, where there is “margin for improvement.”

Health research needs a larger budget slice

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) says the Horizon Europe budget proposal is a good signal but it would support the call for a further increase. “It is critical that an appropriate proportion of the research budget is dedicated to health research and development,” EFPIA said.

Horizon 2020 includes €7.4 billion for health research, including demographic change and wellbeing. Given this, the €300 million increase under Horizon Europe is “paltry” said Cecile Vernant, Head of EU Office for global development NGO Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung.

The substantial budget increases of the other global challenges clusters “smacks of a lack of ambition or willingness in the Commission to tackle head-on the global health challenges,” Vernant said.

The foundation also called on the commission to replicate the success of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and include a dedicated instrument for research and development of new and improved tools to fight diseases of poverty in Horizon Europe.

East-west gap

The EU plans to dedicate €2.1 billion to research and innovation in poorer EU member states. €1.7 billion will be spent on ‘sharing excellence’ across poorer member states and €400 million for ‘reforming and enhancing the European R&I system’. Horizon Europe should “promote fair and objective participation for all research and innovation teams throughout the EU,” said Nica.

Universities welcome the budget allocated for bridging Europe’s research and innovation gap, but the “more money could have been made available,” said Deketelaere.

But, by changing the name of the main part of the programme from ‘spreading’ to ‘sharing’ excellence shows the change in mindset at the commission. This part of the research programme is “about sharing and not about one part of Europe bestowing its knowledge on another,” said Palmowski.

Brexit

The European Commission has left leeway for the UK to participate in the programme but UK scientists are still concerned of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. “In deciding to leave the EU, the UK gave up its right to be part of Horizon Europe, but today’s EU proposals leave the door open for a full and close association,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society.

“The uncertainty over Brexit will undoubtedly hurt our involvement in this round and certainly will jeopardise our leadership role,” said John Hardy, professor of Neuroscience at University College London.

The proposal, “Opens the door for both sides to come together and agree a deal on the other important issues that must be resolved as part of the Brexit negotiations, including regulatory cooperation and the movement of scientists between countries,” said Ed Whiting, director of policy at the Wellcome Trust.

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