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Lack of coordination ‘threatens EU investment plans’

Image: European Union

Parliament, Commission and Council must work better together to secure R&D cash, politicians agree

A lack of coordination and mutual understanding among the EU’s main political institutions is in danger of undermining investment in major R&D areas including quantum technology, two of the bloc’s top politicians have warned.

Christian Ehler (pictured), a member of the European Parliament’s industry and research committee, expressed his concerns to the EU’s newly appointed internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, on 28 January.

Breton appeared before the committee to set out the European Commission’s plans for investments in areas including artificial intelligence, data-sharing, space and defence under the EU’s 2021-27 budget, which is currently being haggled over by member states representatives in the European Council.

But Ehler warned Breton that “a lot” of the plans the commissioner set out were already covered by legislation currently being finalised to create programmes such as the 2021-27 R&D programme Horizon Europe.

“The investment at hand on many of these issues [is] basically related to the innovation programmes,” Ehler said. 

For example, Ehler said that a public-private partnership on artificial intelligence listed by Breton among his plans is “not on the list” of partnerships being considered for funding from Horizon Europe. Such a discrepancy between the Commission plans and the legislation could scupper the former.

Ehler also cited discrepancies on investment plans for quantum technologies. He said it was “of utmost importance” that the Parliament, Commission and Council get better at working together so that vital investments are not “blocked” by a lack of communication.

“A lot of things are not up to the Commission—it’s between us [the Parliament] and Council, and Council have been fairly conservative in the way they were acting…and we’re fairly slow,” Ehler added.

“It’s important that we get an idea how institutionally we work together,” he said, warning that otherwise efforts could become “trapped by the slow inter-institutional setting and a lot of things decided quite differently already”.

Breton said that he “totally agreed” with Ehler, and asked him to help the Commission by “liaising with member states”.

“You’ll have our support in a certain number of projects which weren’t in the budget negotiations and have been cut—defence funds, the quantum project—these are all very important things and we need to have a close look at them,” he said.

“I’ll be looking very carefully at the negotiations to try to make sure that what we’ve got there works and that we have a budget that’s commensurate with our ambitions.”