Irish clinch deal on EU’s ‘Horizon 2020’ research programme


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.

“Research, development and innovation are integral components of the EU’s economic recovery,” said Irish Minister of State Seán Sherlock, currently chair of the Council of EU Research Ministers.

“This engagement with SMEs helps ensure economic benefit from research conducted and contributes to job creation. It also enhances the research environment and reputation of Europe as knowledge based-economy and ensures that we have in place a framework which helps embed existing research excellence, existing employment, foster further job growth and creates the conditions for future technology development which will benefit all society,” Sherlock concluded.

“The program foresees a share of around 10% of the total budget for SMEs, but this remains an indicative target, not a binding commitment, said Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts, Green spokesperson on research policy.

“The Greens are nevertheless proud to have been the leading force behind ensuring that at least €2.7bn are exclusively allocated to projects initiated and run by SMEs. The fact that this amount, which actually represents in absolute terms a status-quo compared to the previous financing period (2007-2013), had to be wrestled at great pains from the Council and Commission speaks volumes about the abyss between the SME-friendly discourse of these bodies and their actual attitude, which continuously favours big business,” according to Lamberts.

"The agreement is a victory for ALDE who want to provide real opportunities for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, and I have fought very hard for this over the past year and a half,” said ALDE-shadow rapporteur Kent Johansson MEP (Sweden, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe). “It is a great achievement that Horizon 2020 will provide SMEs the chance to be in the driver's seat by basing research and innovation projects on their reality and needs,” added Johansson.

Horizon 2020 is a part of Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at enhancing global competitiveness. The European Union leads the world in some technologies, but faces increasing competition from traditional powers and emerging economies alike.


July 2013: Member states ministers expected to agree Horizon 2020

September 2013: Final vote of the Parliament on Horizon 2020 anticipated

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