EU budget negotiations may slash Horizon 2020 funding

Negotiations in Brussels last week on the European Union’s (EU) long-term budget for 2014-20 could mean a total budget for the Horizon 2020 research programme of €69 billion (US$92 billion) – far short of the €80 billion proposed by the European Commission late last year.

During European Council negotiations in Brussels on 8-9 February, the budget for the EU for 2014-20 was proposed by President Heman van Rompuy, with a ceiling of 1% of the gross national index of all 27 EU member states. This would mean a cap at €960 billion – as against €972 billion proposed by Van Rompuy in November – and, adjusted for inflation, a cut in spending to €908 billion.

In new figures released last week, the allocation for competitiveness programmes, which include Horizon 2020, was reduced by €14 billion from figures published in November, which were themselves lower than expected.

For the EU’s huge research programme there could be a reduction from the lowest proposal in November of €80 billion, to €69 billion. The European parliament had earlier proposed a €100 billion budget for Horizon 2020.

According to Research Europe Today, most of the decrease in the ‘competitiveness’ stream was absorbed by the Connecting Europe Facility, a fund for energy, transport and ICT infrastructure that has had its original budget proposal cut in half. By contrast, the allocations for ‘cohesion’ and agriculture were increased.

On Friday Nature suggested that last week’s negotiations might not be the “last word” on Horizon 2020 funding.

“The European Union operates a complex co-decision-making system, and budgets must also be agreed upon by the European parliament. The parliament is friendlier to European research policies than is the European Council – which gathers heads of government and tends to promote national interests,” wrote Alison Abbott.

Indeed, the president of the parliament, Martin Schulz, rejected the council’s decisions regarding research and said parliament was “extremely sceptical” of a backwards-looking budget.

“We cannot agree to cut back on research, innovation and education – these are going to be cut drastically, and this simply doesn’t match the Europe 2020 goals. Everything to do with innovation has been more or less eliminated,” he told a press conference.

The cut came despite intensive lobbying by many stakeholder groups, requesting the research investment budget to be outside the cutback discussions – notably, the League of European Universities; the European Research Council, which allocates EU research spending under a competitive bidding system; and the UK’s Russell Group of research universities.

In an open letter in the Financial Times on 5 February, the British vice-chancellors urged: “Our politicians must champion research and innovation in Brussels. The economic and social benefits of the UK’s world-class university research are well worth fighting for.”

However, wrote Laura Greenhalgh for Research Europe Today, these calls and the commission’s proposal for €80 billion for Horizon 2020 appeared “to have fallen on deaf ears as the research budget was further squeezed between calls for overall reductions (from the UK, Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands), strong support for agriculture from France, and Eastern Europe’s desire to protect cohesion funding”.

According to Nature, the council did approve exact budgets for scientific infrastructure projects outside Horizon 2020: €6.3 billion for Galileo, Europe’s navigation satellite system; €2.7 billion for the experimental nuclear fusion reactor ITER; and €3.8 billion for GMES, a system of Earth observation satellites for which the commission requested nearly €6 billion.

The commission has not commented on how it might allocate the cuts among research programmes when the budget is finalised.