The budget of the new Horizon Europe research and innovation programme fell victim to the EU leaders’ historic summit negotiations this month as they debated the EU’s long-term budget and a post-pandemic economic recovery plan over a lengthy five days from 17 to 21 July. The final negotiated figure of €80.9 billion for the future Horizon Europe programme is significantly lower than a proposal of €94.4 billion put forward by the European Commission in May. It consists of €75.9 billion from the core budget and €5 billion from the new pandemic recovery fund.
The budget for the EU’s academic exchange programme Erasmus+ will be allocated €21.2 billion, about €5 billion less than initially planned. InvestEU, a scheme to boost private and public investment, could see its budget cut to €6.9 billion. In the European Commission’s budget plan, the programme had been allocated €30.3 billion, of which €3.11 billion was ring fenced for research and innovation projects.
The EU4Health programme was also cut down to €1.67 billion, from €9.4 billion proposed in May. The Commission had proposed the programme to help cope with the health consequences of COVID-19 on an EU-wide basis, but paradoxicallyat a time when greater solidarity on public health issues had demonstrated its benefits, the member states preferred to defend their own national health programmes at the expense of a pan-European response.
In the first plenary meeting of the European Parliament, in the same week that the EU heads of state agreed to cut the budget for Horizon Europe, a good number of MEPs across all parties came out to defend the future research programme and vowed to find more money to reverse the budget cuts. In theory, the parliament has strong leverage power as they must approve the EU’s long-term budget. However, in practice, there is probably little room for manoeuvre.
What next for Horizon Europe?
With only five months left, the commission, the council and the parliament have to complete negotiations on how the €80.9 billion budget will be distributed across different parts of the programme, how it may be used with other EU funding sources, and which countries outside the EU will be allowed to participate. Although the budget currently on the table is far from satisfactory, it does provides a solid basis for working out the final details of Horizon Europe and making sure the programme starts on time in January 2021.
Germany will be in charge of steering negotiations on the final details of Horizon Europe and its budget, which will take place at a meeting of EU research ministers in September.
Horizon Europe in the first plenary meeting after EU heads of state agreed to cut the budget for the research programme to €80.9 billion, vowing to work together on finding more money for future-oriented R&D. will certainly be contested by the European Parliament when it it the turn of the MEPs to vote on the Union’s multi-annual budget.
The Horizon budget was just one piece of a historically large pie that it took EU leaders a record five days to negotiate. The big picture: a total EU budget from 2021-27 of €1.82 trillion, including €750 billion in a special pandemic recovery fund. After the pandemic funding, the biggest pieces of the budget will be agriculture and cohesion, or development, funding. Paradoxically in the midst of a pandemic, as part of the wrangling leaders also agreed nearly to zero-out a special new EU health programme – but that idea ran afoul of member states’ longstanding desire to keep the EU institutions from meddling too much in their national health programmes.
Before the budget summit started on Friday, Horizon Europe was slated to get a €13.5 billion boost from this one-time pandemic fund, but the final budget is bringing that figure down to only €5 billion. According to the final EU Council document, the core budget of Horizon Europe will remain at the pre-summit level of €75.9 billion (in 2018 prices) – but even that represented a cut from the European Commission’s May plan of €80.9 billion.
Despite the drama over the weekend – including the first in-person EU summit since the pandemic began – the budget story is not quite finished. Next, the European Parliament will have a say; and it is usually far more supportive of research funding than the national finance ministers calling the shots behind-the-scenes this weekend. That means the fight for more research money will now move into the Parliamentary committees, setting the scene for an epic show-down between the three biggest EU institutions: Parliament, Commission and Council.
The new EU budget gives more ground to Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, who are pushing for fewer grants and more loans in the new pandemic recovery fund. Since Friday, EU leaders argued over the size of the fund, as well as over the rules to disburse the money across member states. Research funding, mostly in the Horizon Europe programme, is just one piece of that overall budget dispute – but became an increasingly visible one as the hours dragged on.
As EU budget negotiations entered a fourth day in Brussels advocates mounted an online campaign to defend the research and innovation programme.
University and business advocates took to Twitter over the weekend to call for more research funding as part of Europe’s pandemic response. EU leaders need to urgently “wake up” and save the bloc’s research budget from a “dismantling” at today’s crunch EU leaders’ summit, says Marta Agostinho, coordinator of EU-Life, an alliance of 14 life science research institutes. “In a time when politicians and citizens look to science to find the miraculous solution to the COVID-19 crisis, the top leaders decide to cut the research budget – how insane is this?” she said.
In real terms, the final Horizon Europe budget is very close to funding levels of its predecessor if the UK’s contribution to the Horizon 2020 budget is also taken into account. According to figures that exclude the UK, presented by the commission, the EU allocated €67.06 billion to Horizon 2020 (in 2018 prices). The total budget of the programme, if Britain’s contribution from 2014 is included, is €76.26 billion.
In the end, the core programme of Horizon Europe will be allocated €75.9 billion and a €5 billion boost from the pandemic recovery fund.