31 / 01 / 2019

Research Europe: “2019 will be crunch time for Horizon Europe’s budget”

Daniel Spichtinger for Research Europe:

[…]

“Discussions on the EU’s overall budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework, which includes spending on research and innovation, are expected to be tough.

Together, the Austrian and Dutch governments have led opposition to any increase in national contributions to the EU budget. But such an increase is needed to replace the UK contribution after Brexit, let alone increase the EU’s budget.

Without any increase, severe cuts will be needed. Given that the EU spends only 6 per cent of its funds on administration, there is little scope for further cuts there without endangering the basic functions of European institutions. Other policy areas, such as agriculture, could be targeted, but farmers have a notoriously strong lobby, which does not shy away from high-profile and disruptive protests. Currently, advocates for research and innovation do not match such drastic tactics.

Protecting the €100 billion budget proposed by the Commission for Horizon Europe will require advocates for research and innovation to work together at both European and national levels. Advocacy must target finance ministers and heads of governments, as well as science ministers, to ensure that the research and innovation budget is protected and ring-fenced. Such a coalition could find an ally in budget commissioner Günther Oettinger, who has repeatedly supported funding for Horizon Europe and the Erasmus+ student exchange programme.

Discussions of EU policy often focus on crises—around finance and migration, for example. This risks undermining public trust in the EU. Conversely, the many programmes, including research, that provide added value and concrete impact often remain underreported. This has been reflected in Austria’s six-month presidency of the Council, which ended on 31 December 2018. At a technical level, it has successfully negotiated progress towards agreement on Horizon Europe, but its overall communications strategy has mostly focused on migration.

The EU still spends significantly less on R&D as a proportion of GDP than competitors such as the United States. To remain competitive and address societal needs, Europe will have to prioritise research and innovation, rather than closing borders.

Research policy is often seen as dry and technocratic. But the EU’s handling of research is a good example of its ability to achieve results and bridge the differences between richer and poorer members. Whether Horizon Europe starts on schedule, with adequate funding, will determine the EU’s ability to attract and retain scientific talent, and to find the internal compromises that have been a foundation for its success so far.”

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