A Bigger E.U. Research Budget? Don't Count On It Yet

BRUSSELS—European researchers should be cautious about their hopes for a big budget boost under Horizon 2020, several observers told a meeting here yesterday. Financial constraints among E.U. member states could shrink the proposed €80 billion budget to €60 billion or even less, Christopher Hull, secretary general of the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations, told the audience at Horizon 2020 and the Future of European Research. Starting in 2014, Horizon 2020 will be the European Union's main research funding program, awarding grants to university-based and industrial research in engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Even the European Commission's €80 billion proposal isn't quite the 40% increase it might seem at first glance, Hull noted. Framework Programme 7 (FP7), the current funding program that started in 2006, had a total budget of about €57 billion, but its yearly outlays increased from just over €5 billion in 2006 to a slated €10 billion this year and next. That means that a flat E.U. research budget for the next 7 years would require at least €70 billion for Horizon 2020, Hull said.

The European Parliament is currently debating the commission's proposals for the program, which were unveiled in November. The Parliament is on record as supporting a €100 billion budget for Horizon 2020, but the final sum will be decided by the finance ministers of all 27 E.U. member states as part of their E.U.-wide budget deliberations. Their official position has been that Horizon 2020 should receive as much as FP7: roughly €57 billion. Given the dire fiscal situation of many European governments, "some voices say we'll be damn lucky to get 60 billion," Hull told the conference. "The budget is the crucial decision," agreed Patrick Bressler, head of the Brussels office of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a German funder of applied research.

Final details of the program's funding rules and priorities will be hashed out in negotiations starting early next year between the commission, the Parliament, and the European Council (comprised of representatives from member state governments). Final approval of the program is expected at the end of 2013, and it is slated to start on 1 January 2014.