The Irish EU presidency yesterday (25 June) reached an agreement in principle with the European Parliament and the Commission to ring-fence €70.2 billion for the research budget from 2014-2020, resolving a number of squabbles over the so-called Horizon 2020 programme.
The broad agreement, reached after nine "trilogue" meetings held during the last six months between the EU's three main legislative bodies, sees the €70.2 billion secure from the broader tussles over the long-term budget.
The number is secure, officials told EURACTIV yesterday, although the overall EU budget still needs a final sign off by EU member states, represented in the EU Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament.
Three pillars agreed
Following “long and challenging” negotiations, EU officials have agreed the percentages of three key “pillars” within the Horizon 2020 programme.
- ‘Excellent Science’, which includes funding for the European Research Centre, infrastructure and future and emerging technologies, receives 37% of the pie.
- ‘Industrial Leadership’, containing specific support for SMEs and for key enabling industrial technologies, receives 22.5%.
- The third pillar – ‘Societal challenges’, designed to point research towards growing problems associated with an ageing society and environmental blight – receives 38%.
- A separate instrument within the Horizon programme will recognise the role of SMEs and pledge that 20% of Horizon 2020 will be directed towards these smaller companies.
- A new simplified funding model will rationalise funding applications across the whole programme, cutting back on red tape and increasing the pool of potential applicants for funding.
EURACTIV understands that the latter two issues were amongst the most controversial. Although Parliament succeeded in getting a separate instrument for SMEs within the programme, it failed to secure a fixed target for how much these companies will receive.
Row over funding models agreed in back-room talks
Instead the Council – which strongly resisted a separate instrument approach – agreed on the basis that SMEs should receive an “indicative target” for funding.
Meanwhile, the Parliament accepted a simplified funding model after insisting long into the negotiations that the programme should continue to use an older funding model side by side with the new.
This was because lawmakers felt that abolishing the more complicated model used during the last research framework programme would work against the interests of Europe’s larger research institutes.
Officials confirmed that this impasse was broken last week when the Commission met with representatives of larger institutes and satisfied them that the new system could work to their advantage.
“This has been a challenging process, but one that clearly indicates how co-decision works, with the three institutions doing their best for the peoples of Europe,” said Irish research minister Seán Sherlock.
The consolidated text – expected to be more than 1,000 pages – remains to be drawn up and the Parliament is expected to vote in September, with Council agreement anticipated by mid-July.