In Downsized E.U. Budget, Mixed News for Research

The news from last week's E.U. budget summit is decidedly mixed for scientists. On Friday, leaders of the European Union's 27 member states agreed for the first time to make cuts to the union's overall long-term budget. Leaders agreed to spend €960 billion for the 7 years from 2014 through 2020, a cut of 3.4% from the current spending period. In that light, the fact that the section of the budget called "competitiveness," which includes research spending, got a boost of roughly 37% doesn't look so bad.

But it's less than science lobbyists had been hoping—and arguing—for. The main science funding program, called Horizon 2020, would get €70.96 billion, according to calculations made over the weekend, says Michael Jennings, spokesperson for Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioner for research, innovation, and science. The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, had proposed €80 billion, which would be a 60% increase over the current funding program, called Framework 7.

Research leaders have been saying for months that €80 billion is the minimum needed to make Horizon 2020 work the way it is designed. Because Framework 7 budgets increased from year to year during the funding period, 2013 funding is roughly €11 billion. That means that €70 billion over 7 years would be a decrease from current spending. In addition, the plans for Horizon 2020 include a number of new programs and initiatives that Framework 7 doesn't fund, notes Paul Boyle, chief executive of the United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council and president of Science Europe, an organization of national science funding organizations. "Our feeling is that €80 billion is required to deliver on the ambitious and exciting proposal that the commission presented," he says. "Anything other than that is disappointing news from Science Europe's perspective."

The council's budget also includes funding for three large infrastructure projects, which would be funded outside the Horizon 2020 program. The Galileo global positioning satellite system would receive €6.3 billion. The ITER fusion reactor would receive €2.7 billion. The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Earth-observing program would receive €3.79 billion. Both Galileo and ITER have won funding at or near to the commission's request but GMES has been cut back severely from the requested €5.8 billion.

The numbers are not yet final, however. The budget agreement still needs to be approved by the European Parliament, and a number of parliamentarians have said they will block the current deal. (In its budget proposal the parliament gave Horizon 2020 €100 billion.) Leaders of several of the largest parties in the parliament issued a statement on Friday saying they "cannot accept today's deal in the European Council as it is." They listed four points they would "not abandon," including "strengthening European competitiveness and research." Before the parliament votes on the budget, representatives of the council, the parliament and the commission will meet for so-called "trialog" negotiating sessions. Parliamentary leaders have said they intend to hold the budget vote via secret ballot, an arrangement that may lessen the pressure on members of parliament from their home governments to approve the deal.

Pressure will be coming from many sources. Boyle says his organization will be making sure that members of parliament understand why €80 billion is the minimum needed for Horizon 2020. And Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said in a statement on Friday that she "will continue to fight for increased funding for the research, innovation and science sectors" during the upcoming discussions.

Posted in Europe, Funding