Fully Fund Research, European Industrial Leaders Say

Ally. ERT, chaired by Leif Johansson, says cutting research funds will make Europe less competitive.


Researchers have a new set of allies in the campaign to stave off possible cuts to the European Union's research budget. On 30 January, the European Research Council (ERC), which funds top basic research, issued a joint letter with the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), a group that includes several dozen chief executives of Europe's largest companies. The letter calls for European leaders to approve the proposed €80 billion budget for Horizon 2020, the research funding program slated to run from 2014 through 2020.

"Europe's future can only be built on its brains," says the letter, which was cosigned by ERT chair Leif Johansson, chairman of the board at telecommunications giant Ericsson. "Any reduction in the funding to support excellent research will result in Europe having limited means to attract outstanding talent in a highly competitive global market."

European heads of state will meet in Brussels on 7 and 8 February to attempt, again, to hammer out a budget deal for the European Union's next 7-year budget period. Disagreements over possible cuts to the European Commission's €1 trillion overall spending proposal scuttled several attempts last year to reach a deal. Several countries, most prominently the United Kingdom, have called for cutting as much as €200 billion from the commission's proposals. Other member states are demanding more spending on agriculture subsidies and the cohesion funds that benefit Europe's poorer regions. That combination has squeezed the research budget in some proposed compromises, with Horizon 2020 getting €70 billion or even less.

Tim Hunt, a member of ERC's scientific council and a 2001 Nobel laureate, helped organize an October letter signed by several dozen Nobel laureates supporting full funding of Horizon 2020. He attended the Davos World Economic Forum with ERC President Helga Nowotny last week, and he says the letter grew in part from meetings that took place there with ERT representatives. "We found we were on the same wavelength, which is incredibly encouraging," he says. "These people know they need highly trained people."

Some European leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have said that they are optimistic about reaching a deal next week. Nowotny, however, says she's not making any predictions. "There's a lot of uncertainty," she says. Scientists need to keep up their lobbying efforts, she says. "If rumors [about Horizon 2020 funding] go up from €70 billion to €73 [billion], maybe some people feel optimistic. But I don't."