Science|Business: Budget rollercoaster stuck again after veto on rule of law
Science|Business article by Florin Zubașcu
The fate of the €4 billion top-up for Horizon Europe remains uncertain, as Hungary and Poland veto budget deal. Research lobbies continue fight to ringfence the additional money for ERC and Marie Curie grants
Budget rollercoaster stuck again after veto on rule of law
Research stakeholders are mounting a campaign to ensure a €4 billion top-up for Horizon Europe agreed last week will be spent on fundamental research and international student and researchers exchange programmes, as Hungary and Poland vetoed the EU’s proposed seven-year budget.
Soon after the budget deal was reached last week, research lobbies began sharpening their knives in an attempt to carve out the fresh €4 billion slice agreed by the European Parliament, the EU Council and the European Commission, and demanded it be spent on the European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA).
“With limited resources you need to put it there where it has the highest impact and added value,” said Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy at the European University Association. “You can’t replicate these programmes at national level,” he said.
“It is crucial to attribute at least the additional €4 billion exclusively to investigator-driven frontier research (ERC), early-stage researchers (MSCA) and infrastructures to combat the underfunding of 'Pillar I: Excellent science' in Horizon Europe,” said David Bohmert, secretary general of CESAER, the association of leading science and technology universities.
However, according to sources in the parliament, the additional money will be allocated to all parts of the programme based on percentages agreed in April 2019. The first pillar, which includes ERC and MSCA, is slated to receive 27.42 per cent of the overall budget. Even though the shares will be discussed again with the council, MEPs aim to stick to their proposal.
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Rule of law haggle leaves research budget ‘in the air’
The budget agreement last week came after weeks of intense negotiations between the parliament and the council, but it still had to be ratified by member states. In a meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday, Hungary and Poland decided to vote against the EU budget in a bid to water down new provisions that tied the EU budget with maintaining rule of law benchmarks set by the EU.
“This has not been a good day for Europe,” Sebastian Fischer, a spokesman for the German presidency of the EU council said in a tweet.
“Although they would be net beneficiaries of EU funding, both countries they are willing to drag this out,” said Estermann.
With less than two months before Horizon Europe is scheduled to kick off, research stakeholders are now worried that the focus will move on to solving yet another political crisis, instead of finding the right way to prioritise the Horizon Europe budget. Trilateral talks between the parliament, commission and council scheduled for the first week of December to iron out the final details of the Horizon budget could be delayed until the deadlock caused by Hungary and Poland is broken.
Several rounds of technical discussions on Horizon were scheduled from now until the first week of December, but the veto on Monday raises the question whether they could continue. For Estermann, the negotiations for the research budget were so far “a little bit of a rollercoaster”. “We finally came to an agreement and a week later is all up in the air again,” he said.
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