EU leaders cut research and innovation to reach deal

21 July 2020

On 21 July, EU leaders agreed on the next EU seven-year budget and the associated recovery plan after a long and difficult summit spanning over four days. The outcome reveals a failure to invest strategically in the future, with curtailed ambitions towards research, innovation and education.

The negotiations mostly focused on the recovery plan (Next Generation EU), with member states fighting over the overall size of the package, the distribution of funds between loans and grants and its governance (including the issue of the respect of rule of law by beneficiary countries). The overall recovery plan reaches 750bn euros as proposed, from which 360bn will be available as loans. Comparatively, the size and distribution of funds within the regular seven-year budget (Multiannual Financial Framework) remained for the most part as proposed before the meeting and totals 1,074.3bn euros.

Horizon Europe has been one of the victims of difficult negotiations, effectively becoming a “reserve fund” to cut from in order to grant higher rebates to some countries. In the final deal, Horizon Europe is allocated 13.5bn euros less than last proposed by the European Commission, with 5bn cut from the programme allocation in the MFF and 8.5bn euros removed from Next Generation EU. At 80.9bn euros (2018 prices), Horizon Europe is far from the ambitious increase indispensable to address pre-Covid-19 needs, let alone the current situation. This is two-thirds of the amount deemed necessary by the European Parliament and EUA.

The disappointment is all the more bitter as several member states - including those that fought for a smaller budget - reiterated the importance of R&I investment and budget “modernisation”. But the final deal reflects more short-term interest than the greater need for strategic, long-term resilience at the level of the continent.

EUA equally regrets the missed opportunity to scale up education funding, with a total amount for Erasmus+ limited to 21.208bn euros, far from the original Commission proposal.

We therefore call on the European Parliament to defend future-oriented investments to give the means to the European Union to tackle the unprecedented challenges effectively and successfully. Funding for Erasmus+ needs to be boosted and the budget allocation to Horizon Europe re-evaluated to protect funding to fundamental, curiosity-driven research which is core to our long-term success.

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