Go back

Horizon 2020 budget set at €69bn as scientists’ pleas ignored

The budget of Horizon 2020, the next EU research programme, could be end up being €69 billion, as heads of state have issued their plan for the EU’s 2014-2020 budget.

According to draft conclusions released early this morning (8 February), Horizon 2020 has lost out in the final compromise, despite widespread calls from the scientific lobby to boost the programme’s budget to at least €80bn.

As Research Europe Today went online, observers were awaiting another revision to the compromise expected during Friday afternoon, to reflect last minute haggling over issues including rebates and provisions for the Baltic states.

In the latest figures, the allocation for competitiveness programmes under heading 1a of the budget—which includes Horizon 2020—has been reduced by a further €14bn from figures published in November. The majority of this decrease has been absorbed by the Connecting Europe Facility, a Commission-backed fund for energy, transport and ICT infrastructure, which has seen its original budget proposal slashed to nearly half. However, the section including Horizon 2020 has lost ground from the November talks, to the tune of nearly €2bn.

As it stands, the research programme looks set to receive around €69bn, if all unspecified areas under the competitiveness programme are reduced at the same rate.

Meanwhile, the allocations for the two biggest areas of the budget—cohesion and agriculture—have been increased compared to the previous negotiations. Cohesion will receive a boost of nearly €5bn, although these funds are to be directed to a new programme for youth employment. Agriculture has increased by just over €1bn since November.

In the run up to the summit, scientist and university groups urged leaders not to sacrifice spending for research and innovation in favour of cohesion and agriculture. Organisations including the European Research Council, the scientists’ lobby group Euroscience, and the League of European Universities called on the EU Council to support the Commission’s proposal of €80bn for Horizon 2020, saying this level of investment would be vital to ensure the programme’s success and prevent the departure of researchers from Europe.

However, this request appears to have fallen on deaf ears as the research budget was further squeezed between calls for overall reductions (from the UK, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands), strong support for agriculture from France, and Eastern Europe’s desire to protect cohesion funding.

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, reacted angrily to the Council’s neglect of competitiveness programmes. “We cannot agree to cut back on research, innovation and education—these are going to be cut drastically, and this simply doesn’t match the Europe 2020 goals,” he told journalists at a late night press conference before the final compromise. “Everything to do with innovation has been more or less eliminated”.

If EU leaders finalise the budget agreement today, it will then turn to the Parliament to approve or veto the budget. Schulz said the Parliament was “extremely sceptical” of a “backwards looking” budget, and said MEPs had requested that their vote should be conducted as a secret ballot, to prevent national pressures influencing the outcome.