Cost of research to upset EU budget talks

  

Supporters of a big increase in the EU's research budget fear innovation will slip down the agenda as talks over the next seven-year budget heat up, a new survey suggests.

Some 93% believe that investing innovation is one of the best ways to create jobs in Europe, an increase of 7% on two years ago, according to the second GE EU Innovation Barometer, published on Wednesday (19 September).

However, 56% also believed that the current economic crisis will put supporting innovation in a lower position on the EU agenda, according to the survey of 260 people.

The barometer was seized on by MEPs keen to protect the level of EU investment in innovation through its proposed research budget for 2014-2020, called Horizon 2020.

The European Commission and Parliament want to see research funds boosted to €80 billion in the next seven-year budget, called the multi-annual financial framework, or MFF, in EU jargon.

Bitter arguments over budget lie ahead

“As the institutions debate the next MFF I would encourage them to protect the €80 billion earmarked for research and innovation under the Horizon 2020 programme,” Irish MEP Sean Kelly (European People's Party) said at an event in the Parliament to launch the barometer.

But Jan Olbycht, the Polish vice chairman of the European People’s Party, believes research should not take the lion's share of the budget at the expense of other areas like regional policy, which tend to benefit poorer EU countries.

Olbycht said that innovation should not be tied only to the research budget, and insisted that it affects all policy areas.

“It’s about implementation issues as well, and innovation in social policy,” Olbrycht told EurActiv after the meeting, “We know that we will observe reductions across the MFF, and it is unrealistic to imagine that there could be reductions in other areas, such as agriculture or cohesion funds, without there being a reduction to the research budget.”

His comments underline tensions over how the MFF will eventually be carved up as negotiations on the EU's long term budget enter the final strait, with an agreement expected by the end of 2012.

Yesterday (19 September), Commission President José Manuel Barroso; Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament; Council President Herman Van Rompuy; and Demetris Cristofias, president of Cyprus, met to discuss progress on the MFF over a working lunch in Brussels.

OECD findings show research spend falling

Despite reconfirming their commitment to reach an overall agreement supported by all institutions by the end of this year, no detailed figures for the MFF appear to be in play yet, and negotiations are likely to stretch into the Irish EU presidency, beginning in January.

Fears of a downturn in spending on research were also highlighted in a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

It found that the current weak economic recovery will likely lead to continued sluggish growth in R&D spending by firms, notably in southern and eastern Europe, in the foreseeable future.

The outlook for France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States is also uncertain, according to the report.

Positions: 

“Europe remains in the depths of a severe crisis. While we clearly need to be focused on bringing about stability and tackling this, we also need to be focused on the future growth, renewal and competitiveness of the EU,” said MEP Sean Kelly (Ireland, EPP), at an event in the Parliament to launch the barometer Innovation.

“Economic globalisation has led to a shift in the economic order and that poses both an opportunity and a challenge for the EU. If Europe is to compete and maintain its position as a major economic force it needs to become more innovative and respond to the changing market conditions,” said Hendrik Bourgeois, vice president of European affairs at GE, commenting on the findings.

“We believe that innovation can be the catalyst for Europe’s economic renewal but that will not happen in a vacuum. We need to create an environment that promotes, incentivises and rewards innovation in its broadest sense, by both the public and private sectors,” Bourgeois added.

Timeline: 

Nov. 2012-Feb. 2013: EU budget for 2014-2020 will be under discussion among heads of state and government

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