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Further calls for EU R&D budget to be ring-fenced

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Fraunhofer representative joins chorus of concern over proposed cuts to Horizon Europe budget

More research leaders have joined the sector’s growing calls for the EU’s research and innovation budget to be ring-fenced, to protect it from annual attempts by national governments to make cuts.

Research and technology organisations are “worried” about a proposal from the Council of the EU, which is composed of government ministers from member states, to slash the European Commission’s proposed 2023 budget for the bloc’s Horizon Europe R&I programme by €663 million, said Verena Fennemann, head of the EU office of Germany’s Fraunhofer Society, an applied research organisation. The Commission has proposed a budget of about €12.3 billion.

Speaking at a policy event held in Brussels on 12 October by Earto, the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations, Fennemann said that the EU budget for agriculture was essentially ring-fenced and “quite untouchable”. She suggested that the same was needed for Horizon Europe.

“The most important thing is we should think of ring-fencing the budget for research and innovation,” she said.

Earto, which counts the Fraunhofer Society as a member, last month called for the EU R&I budget to be ring-fenced to ensure the stability of Horizon Europe and maintain trust in the bloc’s R&I funding system.

Universities and MEPs aligned

Concerns around the proposed cuts have also been raised by universities, with the League of European Research Universities saying that “long-term, solid R&I investment is needed for a prosperous knowledge economy”.

Speaking at the same event, MEP Christian Ehler also criticised the proposed cuts. He said they represented a “dramatic disconnection between what is brought forward by science and research ministers and what the political reality is”.

He added that it was “of the utmost importance” to argue that investment in R&D is not just for “abstract” purposes but matters for issues such as whether the EU reaches its goal of reducing greenhouse emissions.

The European Parliament is set to push for the 2023 Horizon Europe budget to be increased by €311m relative to the Commission proposal.

At another event the previous day, hosted by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, Ehler also called on the Commission and the Council to consider increasing the number of staff in the EIT, an EU agency that supports innovation through knowledge exchange and community building. The EIT is “permanently understaffed”, Ehler claimed.

The Commission declined to comment. An official said it “is aware of the EIT’s increased workload” but that the EU was committed to “stable staffing”, meaning that the EIT would have to “make efficient use of the agreed administrative budget, while facing the challenge of delivering on increasing priorities with stable staff resources” that “correspond to the levels agreed between the co-legislators”.