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Research ministers want more investment and flexibility

Image: European Commission

Greater research and innovation funding needed ‘at all levels’ during pandemic recovery, ministers say

EU research ministers have said the bloc needs to increase its R&D investment as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to a summary of an informal teleconference held in closed session on 29 May, ministers “stressed that research and innovation should lie at the very heart of the recovery” and “emphasised the need to increase research and innovation investments at all levels during the recovery period”.

The teleconference was held days after the European Commission proposed that the budget for the EU’s 2021-27 R&D programme Horizon Europe should be €94.4 billion in 2018 prices, up from the €83.5bn it suggested in a 2018 proposal that was rejected by national leaders before Covid-19 broke out.

If approved by national leaders in the European Council, the raise would help power the recovery from the pandemic through extra spending on health, digitalisation and sustainable growth.

The summary provided by the Croatian presidency of the Council did not say what ministers thought of the budget proposal. It will be finance ministers and heads of government who will negotiate an agreement on the budget.

On a topic over which they hold greater influence—the European Research Area initiative to enable knowledge and researchers to flow freely—the ministers “called for a revision of the ERA on the basis of the experience and lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis”, according to the presidency summary.

“We need an ERA which is more agile, flexible, addresses the research and innovation needs, encourages data and knowledge sharing, provides for better career prospects for researchers throughout Europe and reinforces the links with the European Education Area,” the summary said.

“Research and innovation are indispensable tools for the EU’s exit from the current pandemic crisis,” Croatia’s minister of science and education Blaženka Divjak (pictured) said. “We have to make sure that through sufficient investment in research and innovation at both European and national level, coupled with an improved governance of the ERA, we remain a competitive player in the international arena.”

Ministers also want the EU to increase its “technological sovereignty” so that it can better handle crises like the pandemic with less disruption to essential supply chains, according to the presidency.