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EU leaders promise to strengthen research amid Ukraine crisis

Image: European Union

Condemning actions taken by Russia, heads of state call for additional focus on key areas

EU political leaders have pledged to “strengthen the EU’s research and innovation capabilities” as part of a package of responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The pledge came in a declaration adopted by EU heads of state or government at an informal meeting in Versailles, France, on 11 March (pictured). The Versailles Declaration condemned Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine and praised the “immense solidarity” shown by EU member states in support of Ukrainians fleeing the country.

No further details were provided on how EU research and innovation would be strengthened, but the declaration also set out other actions related to R&I that are intended to boost the bloc’s defence and lessen its dependence on Russia and other countries.

Increased spending and synergies

The declaration said: “In view of the challenges we face and in order to better protect our citizens…we must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies.”

Leaders therefore agreed to “substantially increase defence expenditure” and invest in “strategic enablers such as cybersecurity and space-based connectivity”.

They also said they would “foster synergies between civilian, defence and space research and innovation”.

The EU has dedicated programmes for research and innovation (Horizon Europe), defence and space. Like predecessor EU R&I programmes that ran when the EU had no dedicated defence programme, Horizon Europe is legally only allowed to invest in activities focused on civil applications or those with dual civil and military potential.

Horizon Europe has a budget of about €95.5 billion for 2021-27, and the European Defence Fund programme has a budget of about €8bn for the same period, of which €2.7bn is for research and the rest for development projects.

Reducing dependencies

The declaration said the leaders also agreed on the areas that are most important for reducing the EU’s dependencies on countries outside Europe. These were: critical raw materials, semi-conductors, health, digital and food.

Under health, financing R&D was a specific area of focus mentioned, alongside supporting innovation. 

With regards to investment more generally, the declaration said the European Investment Bank would be used “to catalyse investments, including higher risk-financing for entrepreneurship and innovation”.

It said that all of the plans would be taken forward “as individual member states and collectively” and called on EU institutions to speed up work on all the issues discussed. It said the leaders would return to the agenda at forthcoming meetings of the European Council.