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Rules for reimbursement unclear following trilogue

Research organisations will continue to fight for reimbursement on the basis of full cost under Horizon 2020, in particular for large research facilities, after an EU-level meeting on the issue achieved no agreement.

Reimbursement rules for Horizon 2020 were discussed during a trilogue meeting between the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on 16 April. The Commission and Council want direct research costs under Horizon 2020 to be reimbursed at 100 per cent, and indirect costs at a flat rate of 20 or 25 per cent of direct costs. The Parliament, however, favours an option under which research organisations would be able to get 70 per cent of their total costs reimbursed, or choose a flat-rate option for indirect costs.

Ahead of the trilogue discussion, the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations warned that research infrastructure would suffer under a system where only a percentage of indirect costs would be reimbursed. In a position paper, Earto asks the Council and Parliament “to take no decision on the Horizon 2020 cost reimbursement model before the Commission has produced the promised guidelines”.

A Commission spokesman says that guidelines on reimbursements for large research infrastructure, “which will give legal certainty as to what can be defined as direct costs”, are under development. According to Earto, this information is “integral to the Horizon 2020 cost-reimbursement discussion” and policymakers cannot make an informed decision without it.

But the guidelines will only be made available later this year as part of the full guidelines for Horizon 2020, the Commission spokesman says.

The Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres backs the Parliament’s proposal for some reimbursement of full costs, which, it says, would be “the soundest and most precise way” of tracking project costs. The organisation is concerned that separating direct and indirect costs could create complications, says Annika Thies, the deputy director of the association’s Brussels office.

“We are worried that the Commission is just going to provide a list of things covered by indirect costs,” she says. This could create a bureaucratic nightmare for organisations that already have methods in place to track these costs, Thies says.

Parliament representatives say they will fight for a full-cost reimbursement option. “We’re not going to agree on any compromise that leaves the funding model proposed by the Council untouched,” says Silvia Hennig, an assistant to German conservative MEP Christian Ehler, one of the Parliament’s rapporteurs for Horizon 2020.