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E.U. Leaders Agree on Science Budget

27 June 2013 4:30 pm
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© European Union, 2013

Bearer of good tidings. E.U. budget chief Janusz Lewandowski (left) announces the Horizon 2020 budget.

BRUSSELS—E.U. leaders have reached a last-minute agreement on the bloc's budget for the next 7 years, which would include €70.2 billion for its flagship research program, Horizon 2020. This is a 23% increase over the previous incarnation, known as Framework Programme 7, which started in 2007 and ends this year. Throughout months of political wrangling, research funding has been relatively protected from cuts—but the R&D budget will drop next year, before shooting up in 2015.

The budget figures, put forward in February, were subject to tense negotiations between the European Parliament and the member states. The deadlock was broken on 27 June, after top-level politicians—including the presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament—sat at the negotiating table.

Parliamentarians had requested a larger budget, including €100 billion for Horizon 2020, while the European Commission had initially proposed €80 billion. But with crisis-stricken E.U. countries tightening their belts, the Parliament accepted a smaller budget and pushed through other demands, including more flexible spending rules.

In this bargain, Horizon 2020 has been better protected than other spending areas. It is one of a few select programs that will be allowed to front-load money: This means that funding normally assigned to 2017, for instance, can be spent earlier to finance more research projects than initially planned in a given year. The overall funding pie remains the same, but €200 million can be pushed forward in 2014 and 2015 to fund research projects.

However, that figure is meager compared with Horizon 2020's draft budget for 2014, slated at €8.8 billion in current prices. This amount, announced by E.U. budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski on 26 June, is a 13.6% decrease compared with the final year of Framework Programme 7 in 2013. The budget for Horizon 2020 would then increase gradually until 2020.

Under Lewandowski's proposal, which is based on the February figures, the European satellite navigation systems EGNOS and Galileo would receive €1.3 billion, while the global nuclear fusion project ITER would receive €940 million—a modest 3% increase compared with this year.

The long-term budget deal still has to be formally signed off by member states and the European Parliament plenary in the coming months. Speaking to reporters here today, the lead budget negotiators appeared confident that their peers would endorse the agreement, allowing Horizon 2020 and other programs to start next year as planned.