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Amalia Sartori elected research champion

Budget is biggest battle in MEP’s response to Horizon 2020

Amalia Sartori, a conservative MEP from Italy, has been elected the next head of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee, which develops the Parliament’s research policy.

Sartori, whose appointment was confirmed on 23 January, is among many new holders of influential parliamentary positions including president social democrat MEP Martin Schulz from Germany.

Sartori takes over from Germany’s Herbert Reul, also a conservative, who has headed the committee for the past three years. Sartori, a University of Padua literature graduate, was elected to the European Parliament in 1999, and has sat on other committees, such as the temporary climate-change committee.

She takes over at the Itre committee just as the Parliament is battling with the Council over the development of Horizon 2020, the follow-up to the Framework 7 research funding programme.

Outgoing chairman Reul believes that Sartori will maintain the conservative European People’s Party’s ‘business-friendly’ attitude towards research. As the overall composition of the Itre committee stays the same it is unlikely that the committee will change its course dramatically, he says.

Sartori told Research Europe: “The main problem that Italy has, and Europe too, in part, is that the private sector has to increase engagement in research.” How business engages with universities in the United States “might be an example for all of us,” she says.

However, the greatest challenge for Sartori, Reul says, is ensuring that Horizon 2020 gets significantly more money than Framework 7, an issue on which the Parliament is clashing with cash-strapped member states in the Council of Ministers. “Realistically this will be very difficult,” he says. “Maybe we have to talk more about how we can design the funds we already have to be more effective.”

Parliament’s response to the Horizon 2020 proposal is due to be finalised by Itre in October, and is expected to be adopted by MEPs in November this year. In preparation, Itre has appointed four rapporteurs for Horizon 2020, whose job it will be to prepare a response to the Commission’s proposal for the programme. Spain’s Teresa Riera Madurell, a socialist MEP, will report on the programme’s structure while Germany’s conservative MEP Christian Ehler will cover rules for participation. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s overall agenda will be analysed by Portugal’s Marisa Matias of the Left bloc and the EIT’s structure and rules will be the responsibility of Green MEP Philippe Lamberts, from Belgium.

This early shuffle in the European Parliament is in part due to an agreement between the conservative European People’s Party and the social democrat PSD party, who formed a coalition in 2009. The two groups agreed that the conservatives would take over the presidency mid-way through their five-year term.

The Parliament’s incoming president Schulz from the PSD was elected on 16 January. Although Schulz has no previous research experience, the research community has welcomed his appointment. One commentator pointed out that former president Jerzy Buzek, while officially the Parliament’s rapporteur for Framework 7, rarely commented on research matters during his presidency.

“Schulz is one of the more visible, hard-working and enthusiastic MEPs,” European Commission research adviser Horst Soboll says. “If he insists on a quick approval process of Horizon 2020, a process which was delayed last time round and caused a lot of damage to the Parliament’s position, then he’s going to be a big advantage for the research community.”

Reul himself, who has chaired the Itre committee since 2009, becomes chairman of Germany’s conservative group within the EPP. His experience at Itre, he says, will continue to influence his work.

“If you hold this post for a while then you know that research is of the highest importance to Europe’s future development,” he says.