BERLIN--The dream of a doubling in European Union research funding is dead. In a compromise worked out in the early hours of 17 December, the leaders of the 25 E.U. member countries broke a months-long stalemate and agreed on a €862 billion ($1.03 trillion) budget for the years 2007-2013. The agreement is 16% smaller than the budget proposed earlier this year, and research funds took a significant hit.
In April, the European commission proposed that research funding should double during the next 7-year budget, jumping from €5 billion to €10 billion per year (Science, 15 April, p. 342). As part of that increase, the commission planned to give €1.5 billion per year to a new European Research Council (ERC), which would fund top researchers from across Europe.
But in the final negotiations, research funding lost out to farm subsidies and development funds for the 10 new member countries that joined in May. Instead of an immediate doubling and an overall €35 billion increase over 7 years, the budget will gradually increase from €5 billion in 2006 to €8.75 billion in 2013. The overall increase adds up to about €15 billion. At a press conference in Berlin, research commissioner Janez Potočnik put a brave face on the agreement. The smaller boost "is clearly not what we wanted," he said, but "it reflects today's political reality."
The commission now has to decide how to divvy up its smaller pot, and Potočnik said it was not yet clear how much the squeeze would affect the ERC. He said the new body, which will fund top researchers across Europe, "will receive an important sum." Science leaders have said that the ERC needs at least €1 billion per year to be viable. "We will have an ERC," Potočnik said, but he warned that prior commitments to the ITER fusion reactor and other programs will put pressure on the smaller budget.