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Imprensa

Turf war looms over boosted research budget (EURACTIV)

2011-07-05

Article written by Jeremy Fleming

Deciding how to carve up the newly boosted research budget - expected to almost double to €100 billion in the post 2013 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) - is likely to cause internal power struggles at the European Commission, according to MEPs.

The new common strategic framework for research, now dubbed 'Horizon 2020', will absorb existing research funding such as the European Institute of Technology (EIT) and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP).

The EIT is currently administered by the Commission's education department, whilst the CIPs are administered by DG Enterprise and DG Energy. Some or all of these departments' controls could disappear depending on how the funds are positioned within Horizon 2020, the full details of which will be revealed in October.

The draft MFF does not specify a separate line of funding for the programmes, leading to uncertainty over how much they will receive and how they will be administered internally within the Commission.

The CIP runs from 2007 to 2013 with an overall budget of €3.6 billion, likely to increase dramatically within the next MFF. The EIT, which was only established three years ago, will receive €309 million next year, but its administrators have requested between €3 and €4 billion from the MFF.

Internal power struggle looming ahead?

Xavier Prats Monné, a deputy director-general in the Commission's education department, last week revealed that an internal debate within the EU executive had still not resolved how the programmes would operate under Horizon 2020.

Speaking at a conference on the future of the EIT in the European Parliament, he said: "There is a choice between whether to have a single policy and legal framework for all programmes under Horizon 2020, or to make a clear distinction between Horizon 2020 as a policy framework and to preserve the [separate] legal framework of the EIT."

He added: "I do not think that it [Horizon 2020] should be an unique framework, but this is a debate going on and the devil is in the detail."

Portuguese Christian Democrat MEP Maria de Graça Carvalho, who sits on the industry, research and energy committee, warned that there are parliamentary fears about how the Commission will come to its decision.

Carvalho told EurActiv: "It is important that the question of whether they have their own instruments is separated from questions of internal administration, otherwise this will become a political issue and there will be a power struggle internally".

She said that the research and innovation task force of the European People's Party is currently finalising its own opinion on the administration of the EIT and CIP.

She said concerns about the Commission's decision-making process were widespread in the Parliament and the opinion could contain an explicit request for the EU executive to keep its decisions on the funds, and how they are administered, separate.

Proposals boost complex, cost-intensive technologies?

Another fear is that the decisions reached by the Commission will not take into account the fact that a new EU executive will take over simultaneously with the new MFF - at the beginning of 2014 - and may then revisit the decisions on internal administration.

Meanwhile, the boost in the research budget was given a mixed response by industry.

In a statement BusinessEurope "warmly welcomed" the proposals to increase funds for research and innovation, but it said the overall budget proposal "failed to take forward the major overhaul of the EU budget that is required to fully support the EU 2020 objectives of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth".

A consortium of 98 civil society and research organisations from 22 European countries sent an open letter to the Commission claiming that its research proposals promoted complex, cost-intensive technologies at the expense of locally-adapted, socially-relevant projects.

Positions: 

"If the EIT falls within the general remit of the €80 billion research budget then the danger is that there is no way of calculating the specific funds that may be available. The compelling need for simplification of the common strategic framework is good but when you talk about an instrument that looks for flexibility then simplicity may run against flexibility," said Xavier Prats Monné, a deputy director-general in the European Commission's education department.

He added: "There is a choice between whether to have a single policy and legal framework for all programmes under 'Horizon 2020', or to make a clear distinction between Horizon 2020 as a policy framework and to preserve the [separate] legal framework of the EIT. I do not think that it [Horizon 2020] should be a unique framework, but this is a debate going on and the devil is in the details."

"There are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of separation is that there would be an evaluated budget and with an integrated approach there would be more harmonisation within the approach; a sort of on-stop-shop for the whole research area," said Portuguese Christian Democrat MEP Maria de Graça Carvalho.

"I would advise the Commission to separate its discussion of how this should be done from the remit of the budget as a whole because there are complications", Carvalho said, stressing that at the moment the EIT is administered by DG Education & Culture but could be administered by DG Research or by a separate, stand-alone authority.

"The CIPs are administered by DG Enterprise and by DG Energy and the question is how they will all be positioned within the framework. It is important that the question of whether they have their own instruments is separated from questions of internal administration, otherwise this will become a political issue and there will be a power struggle internally", Carvalho concluded.

In a statement EU industry lobby BusinessEurope said: "Efforts to make further use of financial instruments in several policy areas are a much-awaited development. Nevertheless, in our view the proposals fail to take forward the major overhaul of the EU budget that is required to fully support the EU 2020 objectives of smart, sustainable and inclusive  growth."

In an open letter sent (29 June) to the president and members of the European Commission as well as the European Parliament and EU member states, 98 civil society and research organisations from 22 European countries warned that the Commission's draft proposals fail to address the real challenges faced by European societies and call for a research agenda geared towards the needs of society and the environment rather than those of big business.

The signatories, an alliance of researchers (Scientists for Global Responsibility; the European Network for Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility; the Estonian University of Life Sciences) and civil society organisations (the European Consumers' Organisation; Friends of the Earth Europe; Fondation Sciences Citoyennes; Statewatch; Women in Europe for a Common Future) cautioned that the EU's current excessive emphasis on market competitiveness could see commercially-driven investigations prioritised over needs- and curiosity-driven research in the next Common Strategic Framework.

With five key recommendations, the signatories called on the EU to overcome the myth that only complex, cost-intensive technologies can create employment and well-being; adopt a wider definition of innovation to include locally adapted, socially relevant research projects; establish a democratic, participatory and accountable decision-making process for research funding allocation, free from conflicts of interest and industry dominance; base decisions on expertise independent from commercial interests, and from a balanced representation of all stakeholders; ensure that the results of publicly funded research will be openly accessible to the wider society.

"The overall increase in the budget is in line with chambers' desire for 'more Europe'. However, the Commission's spending proposals fall a long way short of the quantum leap that we were anticipating as a result of the lengthy EU budget review process," said Arnaldo Abruzzini, secretary-general of Eurochambres.