With EU governments unwilling to fill the funding gaps in the multi-billion international nuclear fusion research project ITER, the European Commission is proposing to put an extra 1.4 billion euro on the table to honour the bloc's international commitment.
To ensure European financing for the project in 2012-2013, the Commission suggests finding €1.4 billion of unused funding from the EU budget (€940 million) and by redeployment of €460 million from the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7).
EU research ministers mandated the Commission to table the proposals following unsuccessful negotiations earlier this spring to agree on how to respond to the ambitious project's spiralling costs (EURACTIV 10/06/10).
Europe's bill for the project has almost trebled. Initially estimated at €2.7 billion, the bloc's share is now projected to be €6.6 billion until 2020, with France liable for a further €1.3 billion in its capacity as host country for the plant.
EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski and Research Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn stressed that "ITER can provide a safe, clean and inexhaustible source of energy for the future".
This makes the project priceless, they argued, "especially when you consider that the EU had a trade deficit in energy of nearly €400 billion in 2008".
The Commission proposal stresses that the EU executive "has made clear its view that the EU budget cannot be asked to continue to deal with cost overruns". It underlines that for the period after 2013 the EU budget will need to have a fixed, annual contribution to the costs of ITER so that "any future cost overruns will not fall on the EU budget".
The European Parliament and the 27 EU member states in the Council of Ministers will now both have to agree on the proposal, which amends the EU's current long term budget for 2007-2013.