This policy brief marks a new phase in EUA’s campaign and underlines that the sector is unlikely to benefit from the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), given the loan-financing mechanism the fund is built upon, and makes specific proposals to shift cuts away from Horizon 2020 to avoid damage to Europe’s long-term research capacities.
EUA in particular argues against creating a worrying precedent whereby research funds can be diverted for other purposes, disregarding previous formal commitments made to the Horizon 2020 programme. During the Competitiveness Council meeting held this week, Ministers acknowledged that research and innovation should be a primary focus of projects benefitting from EFSI loans, possibly by including experts in the field in the project selection mechanism. While this is a step that EUA views positively, the organisation finds it important to clarify that EFSI is not a scheme in which universities can expect to be significantly engaged.
The briefing can be summarised in the following five points:
1. EFSI operates on the basis of a debt financing mechanism; it offers loans - not subsidies like Horizon 2020 competitive funding. The beneficiaries of EFSI support must therefore repay the amounts received. In most EU Member States, borrowing money is restricted or even prohibited for universities.
2. The nature and the scale of projects considered exclude universities from the scheme. The currently available list of proposed projects clearly prioritises large investment operations, primarily related to the development of infrastructure such as transport and energy.
3. The intention is to start supporting projects before the end of 2015. This leaves little scope for new projects. Universities may benefit as possible suppliers or end-users but there is little opportunity to become active partners.
4. EFSI is to a large part financed by diverting funds from European research and this sets an unacceptable precedent of reducing research funding to support other activities. It also sends the wrong signal to EU member states, where research funding is often already under threat, shown by EUA’s Public Funding Observatory.
5. EUA makes specific proposals, including shifting some of the cuts from Horizon 2020 to the Connecting Europe Facility – given the strong focus on transport in the projects submitted by Member States. EUA also calls for no future cuts to Horizon 2020, for unused funds to flow back into research and ensuring strong research criteria in the selection of projects.