Europe Adopts €53 Billion Research Plan

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

It's the biggest deal in European science history. Today, the European Parliament gave its stamp of approval to the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), a €53 billion ($70 billion), 7-year funding program aimed at integrating Europe's fractured research scene and keeping the continent economically competitive.

Slated to start in January, FP7 invests heavily in applied research for information and communication technology and human and animal health; it also contains funding for new research to fight terrorism, secure borders, and protect computer networks. In addition, it reserves more than €7 billion for something for which scientists have fought hard: the European Research Council (ERC), an agency akin to the U.S. National Science Foundation. Run by scientists, ERC will dole out money for basic research across the continent based solely on excellence.

The FP7 package has four main pillars. "Cooperation," the E.U.'s pot for vast research projects that pull together multiple labs and companies across the continent, gets €32.4 billion; its three major components address information and communication technologies, health, and transport. "People" is a €4.8 billion program aimed at training scientists, improving opportunities for researchers to work abroad, and preventing brain drain by luring expats back to Europe. "Capacities" contains some €4.1 billion for new research infrastructure such as radiation sources, data banks, and telescopes; and "Ideas" contains ERC's €7.5 billion budget until 2013. That leaves ERC with just over €1 billion a year to spend, which many researchers considered the minimum for a viable funding agency, says Helga Nowotny, vice-chair of ERC's scientific council.

Also approved today--although technically not part of the Framework--is €2.7 for Europe's nuclear energy organization, Euratom, most of which will be spent on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project for fusion research.

The European Parliament has left its marks on FP7 over the past year; among other actions, it has increased the originally proposed funding to promote career options for young scientists and women, put more emphasis on neglected diseases, and increased participation of small and medium-sized businesses.

Formally, FP7 still needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers, in which Europe's governments deliberate. But after intense informal discussions between the two bodies in the past few months, the version now adopted by the Parliament is certain to be approved without further discussion by the council in a meeting later this month, says commission spokesperson Antonia Mochan. The commission expects to launch its first calls for proposals for FP7 on 22 December.

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