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Member states ‘unlikely’ to reach agreement on EU budget this year, say diplomats

The Council of Ministers is considering an €18-billion cut to the competitiveness budget, including Horizon 2020, in the long-term EU budget from 2014.

In a document published on 29 October, the Cypriot presidency of the Council suggested the reduction as part of overall cuts of €50bn demanded by member states for the seven-year multiannual financial framework. The €18bn reduction to heading 1a (competitiveness) includes a decrease of €13.7bn for the Connecting Europe Facility fund. This leaves a minimum of €4.3bn to be absorbed by other areas including Horizon 2020. On top of this, the presidency states, “more sizeable reductions are needed in order to reach a compromise” between member states.

But member states appear unlikely to reach an agreement this year. Brussels sources say it remains uncertain if heads of state will be able to reach a compromise at a two-day summit of heads of state beginning on 22 November. One EU official says that further cuts to the Cyprus proposal are expected, and “if there are major cuts made, Horizon 2020 will have to participate in them”.

But Peter Tindemans, secretary general of the scientists’ group Euroscience, says some countries that are in favour of overall cuts may still protect spending on growth areas. “The Dutch government has stated that cohesion and agriculture will have to be reduced to the benefit of funding research,” Tindemans told Research Europe. “I am sure the same view will come from Germany, Sweden and Denmark.”

However, a Brussels-based diplomat says that, after a meeting of EU ambassadors on 31 October, even fewer people believe they will reach an agreement in November. “The views of member states could not be more different,” said the source.

Fabian Zuleeg, an economist at the conservative think-tank European Policy Centre, thinks the UK may prevent a compromise. Prime Minister David Cameron previously said he would push for a spending freeze, but national politicians voted last week to support a real-terms cut. “Apart from the UK, every country has left room to negotiate,” says Zuleeg.

Zuleeg says he thinks that resuming negotiations this year, if the November meeting fails, will be pointless without a significant shift in position.