The European Commission has published its budget proposal indicating from where it will draw the funds for its own contribution to the European Fund for Strategic Investments, with the aim to trigger a multiplier effect through contributions from the European Investment Bank, national governments and the private sector.
EuroScience agrees that an economic stimulus package is needed and, in principle, is not against using a small part of the Horizon 2020 budget for this purpose, as Horizon 2020 has, as one of the aims is the funding of European research and development in support of competitiveness. If the leveraging is successful it is likely that some funds will flow back into research and innovation. But success is not guaranteed, and therefore we urge the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to be extremely careful before cutting budgets which were hailed by everyone as being vital for creating jobs and growth.
Specifically, we urge the European Institutions to weigh carefully where any additional investments in research and innovation would flow to.
Our concern is especially the proposal to reduce the budget of the European Research Council by about 2% overall and moreover, as we understand it, to have the full reduction paid from the budgets of 2015 and especially 2016. This is a very unwise move, especially as the ERC budget is not increasing during the initial years due to the Finance Ministers’ desire to reduce the budget for payments. And this would happen while the ERC has, after only a few years, established its reputation for excellence across the World especially with its emphasis on young researchers.
There is no chance whatsoever that the ERC and its clients will benefit from additional, leveraged money from the EIB, national governments or the private sector. The same is true for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. Both are extremely important as sources for increasing the number of researchers in Europe; reducing them would give the wrong signal to doctoral students throughout Europe. They are also important instruments to enhance Europe’s attractiveness for researchers worldwide.
Horizon 2020 and, if successful, the new European Fund for Strategic Investments should be two key pillars of a powerful EU strategy for the future. The arguments given for the cuts to Horizon 2020 are the best indication that this vision is not deeply anchored in the Commission. The budgets for Agriculture and the Structural Funds, so the argument goes, are pre-allocated to the Member States, so that a significant part had to come from Horizon 2020. There is absolutely no legal reason why this should be so. True, the budgets for Horizon 2020 and, within this, for the ERC, have been increased, but this increase was considerably less than the Commission correctly proposed in view of Horizon 2020’s vital role for creating jobs and growth and to ensure that the European research sustained its reputation for excellence and attractiveness for researchers worldwide.
When Member States are unable or unwilling to support research at appropriate levels, it is clearly the Commission’s role not to compromise. Neither the Commission nor the Parliament should undermine something that has been so carefully built up like Horizon 2020 and its instruments such as the ERC to finance European Fund for Strategic Investment. Finance Ministers seem to want to discuss even larger cuts in Horizon 2020 in favour of the Europe Connect Facility, letting loose the spectre of re-opening the debate about the Multiannual Financial Framework.
EuroScience calls upon the Commission, the Member States and the European Parliament not to reduce the budget of the ERC and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions when reviewing the contributions from the EU budget to pay for the EU share to the European Fund for Strategic Investments. We are convinced that there are other ways to find the money, as George Soros demonstrated in a recent article in the New York Review of Books (February 5, 2015) in the context of providing financial support to Ukraine. Member States, in particular, have an equal responsibility to not only find funds for the Investment Fund but to support European research and especially young researchers who represent our collective future well-being.