EU research budget 'faces 12% cut'

European Research Council head warns of competing demands from member states.

European Research Council head warns of competing demands from member states.

Sun, Feb 17, 2013, 00:00

The EU's overall research budget could be cut by 12 per cent unless agreement is reached on protecting it. And the cut could be even deeper if budget reductions demanded by the European Council are not applied evenly across the board, the head of the European Research Council has warned.

ERC president Dr Helga Nowotny was speaking in Boston over the weekend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. She and the director of the National Science Foundation, Dr Subra Suresh, were providing an update on a joint programme that will see US research scientists travelling to Europe and spending up to a year in EU research centres.

Earlier this month EU heads of government agreed the overall community budget for the next seven years, worth about €284 billion including current and future commitments between 2014-2020. This figure represented about a one per cent cut on 2012, the first time in the history of the community that the agreed budget figure actually went down.

Within this figure, the commission had sought a research and innovation budget, known as Horizon 2020, worth €80 billion, but the cut made by EU leaders means that this figure will not hold unless funding for research and innovation receives special treatment. This would be unlikely Dr Nowotny said given powerful competing demands coming from member states who would seek to protect funding under the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural Funds.

If applied across the board each would see roughly a 12 per cent reduction, bringing support for research down to €71 billion. The reduction would be likely however "to hit research and innovation in a disproportionate way", Dr Nowotny said.

The budget must now go before the European Parliament, which has been a strong advocate for research spending. It had recommended the sector receive €100 billion over the life of 2020, and has threatened to vote down the budget if research is cut. There is no certainty about what action the parliament will take however, she said. "It is pure speculation to say what is going to happen in the Parliament."

She and Dr Suresh said there had been a very good response to the new programme which will see US-based scientists spending between three and 12 months in host research institutions, a scheme agreed last July in Dublin. The foundation is encouraging its funding recipients to apply for these placements, he said.

The European hosts would come from among the ERC's own cohort of award recipients, Dr Nowotny said. There had been a very strong response with 760 offers to receive a visiting researcher from the US. "We were thrilled with the initial response from Europe," Dr Suresh said. The foundation is currently selecting about 100 people who will be supported for placement on the programme. "Potentially it will be a win-win case for both of us," he said.

"So far we have not been very successful in attracting researchers from outside Europe," Dr Nowotny acknowledged. "Now the time has come to put more emphasis on this." She believed the new programme would do this.

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