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Commission fears Framework and Erasmus could bear brunt of 2012’s missing €3bn

Framework 7 is likely to be threatened by cuts again in 2013, as the European Commission spreads a €3-billion budget shortfall among its spending programmes.

Last month, the Parliament accepted a deal under which member states would pay out an additional €6bn to cover a €9bn shortfall in 2012. However, the funding deal means the remaining shortfall of €3bn will have to come out of the 2013 budget. On top of this, the overall budget for 2013 is €5bn lower than requested by the Commission, meaning Framework 7 could be in line for cuts again this year.

The Commission expects it will have to ask for additional funding as early as September 2013, and confirms that Erasmus is under threat. The Commission’s budget spokesman said: “From autumn 2013 we could see a shortage in funding for Erasmus and the other education and training schemes supported through the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme.”

The 2012 shortfall included a €345-million gap in Framework 7’s budget and €90m for the Erasmus student exchange scheme. With the agreement, “everything regarding Erasmus and research was paid in time” for 2012, according to the Commission’s budget spokesman.

The shortfall arose after the Council and Parliament agreed on an insufficient budget for 2012 at the end of 2011. In a memo to explain the budget, the Commission describes the situation as “a snowball effect of underfed budgets coupled with postponement of payments of bills”.

The budget amendments were agreed in last-minute negotiations after the Parliament decided that €6bn would be the best they could get from cash-strapped member states. “Rejecting the compromise…would have led to an immediate payment crisis for a number of important programmes,” says Göran Färm, a Swedish Socialist MEP who is a member of the budgets committee. He adds that it would have also damaged the EU’s credibility.

Peter Tindemans, secretary general of the grass-roots scientists’ group Euroscience, told Research Europe that the Council’s push to lower the budget for 2012 and 2013 does not bode well for research in the upcoming negotiations on the multiannual financial framework for 2014-20.

Tindemans notes that agricultural subsidies and cohesion, the biggest parts of the budget, cannot really be reduced. As a result, “the real burden will be on those budgetary parts which are flexible, which includes research”, he warns.