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MEPs disagree on Horizon 2020 challenge split

Members of the European Parliament’s committee for industry, research and energy issues appear divided on a proposal to split Horizon 2020’s sixth societal challenge into two separate ones.

In its proposal for Horizon 2020, the EU’s follow-up programme to Framework 7 in 2014-20, the European Commission has suggested dividing research funding along six so-called “societal challenges”—such as climate change or food security—instead of by research discipline. Under this plan, the sixth challenge would be called “inclusive, innovative and secure societies.”

But in a draft Parliament report, Teresa Riera Madurell, a socialist MEP from Spain, suggests dividing this heading into two separate challenges, to be called “Understanding European societies and societal challenges” and “Protecting freedom and security in Europe.” The Council of Ministers made a similar suggestion late last month, arguing that the split would give more prominence to the social sciences and humanities research.

However, some MEPs criticised the idea during a first debate on Riera’s report in Brussels on 18 June, saying in particular that it would not give more visibility and funding to social sciences and humanities, but would instead promote more technology-based solutions for security and defence.

Philippe Lamberts, a Green MEP from Belgium added that the Council’s move was a trick to get the EU to fund more industrial research in the defence area. “I’m not naïve and there’s no reason why Europe should not be stronger in [defence research],” Lamberts said. “I think defence should become an EU competence. But until this happens, if some member states have no money to fund their national [defence industry] champions, then too bad.”

Robert-Jan Smits, the Commission’s director-general for research, insisted that the sixth challenge should remain as it is. He said that, for example, issues such as terrorism have socio-economic roots and that the two should not be dissociated.

The Parliament’s draft report will be discussed further in the research committee before being put to a vote in the autumn.