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Carlos Moedas

Carlos Moedas

European Union (2015)

European research head defends plan to tap Horizon 2020

LONDON—The head of the Horizon 2020 research budget tried today to blunt criticism of a plan to take €2.7 billion from the European Commission’s research budget and put it into an investment fund for economic recovery.

During a visit here, Carlos Moedas assured the Royal Society’s Paul Nurse and other scientific leaders that the idea would spur research as well as innovation.

“We are doing more and not less,” Moedas said he told Nurse during a visit to London today. “I'm extremely glad to reassure Sir Paul that the idea of the Juncker Plan will be to increase the firepower of Horizon 2020.”

Moedas, a 44-year-old Portuguese ex-banker, was referring to a proposal made last November by Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. Over lunch today, Moedas dropped by the commission’s outpost to answer questions from reporters about Juncker’s plan, called the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). The proposed fund would take €21 billion from various existing budgets and invest it in projects that can leverage 15 times more public and private investment, totaling €315 billion over the next 3 years.

The plan was presented in January as draft legislation to the European Parliament, where it faces opposition from members who want to protect the budgets for research and infrastructure. This month, the European Court of Auditors pointed to gaps in the legal basis of the plan and said it had not been sufficiently vetted.

The scientific community has raised concerns as well. Science Europe, an association of major European research groups, issued a plea last week not to dip into Horizon 2020. The commission’s claim that EFSI projects could replace the science done under Horizon 2020 was “a severe error,” Science Europe argues.

At today’s briefing, Moedas said the goal is to stimulate private investment in European innovation. Part of the Horizon 2020 program, he noted, already leverages private and public funding. “We should open a little bit our minds to this project,” he said. At the same time, he said, basic research remains “the root of it all.”