The struggle for Horizon 2020 during the negotiations of the 2016 EU budget
40 days is the break that policymakers have given to the Horizon 2020 budget before putting the thumbscrews on again. On 28 May 2015, after the longest trilogue in ECOFIN history, the European Parliament and the Council negotiators reached a political agreement on EFSI, which included a deal on the contribution of the Horizon 2020 budget: €2.2 billion instead of €2.7 billion, as originally proposed by the European Commission. However, the truce did not last long and on July 9 a new attack on Horizon 2020 was launched, this time through the Council´s position on the draft 2016 EU budget and the cuts to the Horizon 2020 budget, as agreed by the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER). In the coming days, the Council will formally adopt its position on the 2016 EU draft budget, endorsing that agreement. It goes without saying that seeking to further reduce the budget for Horizon 2020 (by €73.2 million in commitment appropriations and €205.2 million in payment appropriations!) is unacceptable for a Union that prides itself on supporting competitiveness and research. LERU strongly rejects the ECOFIN´s position and seriously calls on policymakers to safeguard Horizon 2020 from the tiresome and recurrent attempts to reduce its budget.
First came EFSI…
In 2014 EFSI was announced. The European Fund for Strategic Investments (Juncker´s €315 billion investment plan), would generate €15 of investment for every €1 of public money mobilized. As expected, this much-heralded plan came at a price, and unfortunately, it was too high for research and its budget, with an original proposal by the European Commission of “redeploying” €2.7 billion from Horizon 2020 to finance the guarantee of the Fund.
After a fierce battle, “stalemate was avoided” and the LERU bottom line requests were respected by the political agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council on May 28. The budget for the European Research Council, Marie-Sklodowska Curie Actions and Spreading and Widening participation were spared from the cuts and Horizon 2020´s contribution to EFSI´s Guarantee Fund was decreased (from €2.7 billion to €2.2 billion, with a contribution of €164.8 million in 2016).
The the Council…
However, new attacks on the research budget were about to come, this time via the Council. On July 9, the Council´s position on the draft 2016 EU budget was presented, suggesting cuts of the EC´s proposal of €563.6 million in commitments appropriations and €1.42 billion in payment appropriations and stating how the suggested amounts “would enable the EU in 2016 to reach its policy objectives”.
But let there be no mistake, in the case of the proposed budget for Horizon 2020, it is clear that the proposed cuts of €73.2 million in commitment appropriations and of €205.2 million in payment appropriations will certainly not allow for the objectives in this field to be reached.
Unfortunately, the cuts suggested by the Council come as no surprise when looking back at the recurring attacks to the research budget by Finance Ministers. LERU has steadfastly denounced the fact that Finance Ministers have sought, time and again over the past few years, to cut on research during the annual negotiations of the EU budget. This is unacceptable and sends the wrong message, standing in stark contrast with the daily rhetoric on the importance –both at national and European level- of research. “It is terrible to witness how Finance Ministers have become the gravediggers of the EU´s research policy and budget”, states LERU Secretary-General, Prof. Kurt Deketelaere.
What next for the EU budget for research?
As LERU stated repeatedly, “Horizon 2020 is not a lemon!” and the EU institutions and Member States should stop squeezing it. During the ongoing budgetary procedure, LERU calls upon the other EU institutions to strongly oppose the cuts in the Horizon 2020 budget for 2016, as suggested by the Council, and to prevent the introduction of further cuts.
“The cuts deriving from EFSI are already harmful enough for the Horizon 2020 budget (in 2016 and later) and further cuts would be unacceptable”, says LERU Chair Prof. Alain Beretz. “Policymakers seem oblivious to the fact that with each new attack on the Horizon 2020 budget, they seriously erode the credibility of the EU´s and Member States´ commitment to research”.