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Science cloud budget unclear

Just 10 per cent of the €2 billion budget for the European Cloud Initiative has been formally allocated, putting the European Commission’s financial commitment to the project into question.

In 2015, the Commission pledged to spend €2bn from Horizon 2020 on the European Cloud Initiative, which includes the launch of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), the development of a supercomputer and a strategy to digitise government services. 

The Commission said that its €2bn commitment would be topped up by €4.7bn of public and private investment between 2016 and 2020. But the only concrete allocation of funding from the €2bn pot was made on 12 June by the EU’s research commissioner Carlos Moedas. Speaking at the EOSC summit in Brussels, Moedas promised to spend €200 million on implementing the cloud between 2018 and 2020. “Discussions are ongoing,” he said.

The Commission has not released a breakdown of its spending on the initiative since 2014. A spokeswoman told Research Europe that “the financial amounts for the EOSC will be specified in the next Horizon 2020 work programme” in October.

The biggest challenge is to fund the expansion of national infrastructure as part of the EOSC, according to Sergio Andreozzi, policy manager for the European Grid Infrastructure Foundation and a member of the Commission’s Open Science Policy Platform. “Use of the cloud should be free for scientists, but someone has to pay the bill,” he said. “The division between the Commission and national governments’ responsibilities must be defined.”

Nevertheless, Andreozzi is optimistic that these issues will be resolved. “There is strong leadership from the Commission on this initiative,” he said.

The €2bn commitment to the cloud initiative over seven years makes it one of the EU’s most ambitious science programmes. By comparison, the Graphene, Human Brain and Quantum Technologies flagships each have a budget of about €1bn over 10 years.

The funds are needed because “we’re up against a centuries-old wall in the way we organise science,” said Jennifer Edmond, also member of the policy platform and co-director of the pan-European Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. The technical aspects are “a minor challenge compared to the sea of changes that full utilisation of the cloud will require”, she said.

Edmond expressed concern that deciding on the cloud’s governance has been given precedence over the training and rewards needed to encourage uptake among scientists. These are crucial to incorporating all disciplines and will be one of the biggest challenges, she said. “I’m not sure we’ve anchored this vision far enough upstream.”

This article also appeared in Research Europe