EU Budget 2021-27: Research and Innovation First!

The President’s viewpoint of the discussion of EU financial planning for 2021 to 2027

The European Union (EU) is trying to reach an agreement on the next financial plan for the years 2021 to 2027. After recent initial discussions between the EU heads of state and government, the scientific community faces the risk that the proposal of the European Commission regarding financing for research and innovation (R&I) may fall far short of expectations in spite of the support of the European Parliament. The Brexit on the one hand, and scarce public financial resources in all EU member states on the other, have led to a disappointing shift in opinion. A final decision will most likely be reached under the German Presidency at the end of 2020, thus leaving a time window to convince decision makers for a change of course. 

The current situation is challenging Horizon Europe, which the European Commission projected with a volume of EUR 94.1 billion. Today, wealthy countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, are reluctant to agree with the Commission's proposal on an increased R&I spending. On the other side, France, Poland and others with large agricultural sectors want agricultural subsidies to continue without reduction. Further member states, such as Hungary and Romania are dependent on EU funding for their regional development. According to the Commission’s initial suggestion, for example, regional support for Hungary would drop by around 25 percent by 2027. At the same time, Central and Eastern European member states are complaining their low return in EU research funding which causes lacking support of this policy area. Almost 90 percent of the EU's R&I funding goes to economically wealthier and thus scientifically stronger Western and Northern European countries.

Against this background, the Max Planck Society has welcomed the partial agreements reached in April 2019 by the EU Council and EU Parliament on the forthcoming research framework programme Horizon Europe, in which general structures and framework conditions were established. In these rather turbulent political times, the European Union has demonstrated its clear intent to shape the future of Europe across parties and countries. This is not only an encouraging sign, but also a matter of urgency, because Europe is facing fierce global competition and losing ground to the USA and China in scientific and technological terms. It is therefore of great importance to further strengthen the European Research Area through Horizon Europe and national efforts. The successes of the previous Research Framework Programmes must be continued – via European programmes such as the European Research Council (ERC), the opening up of Europe-wide career paths, networking and cooperation between research institutions, a cross-programme quality orientation or the strengthening of promising research regions in Europe.

The overwhelming majority of EU states are far from achieving the agreed target of allocating three percent of their gross domestic product to investment in research and innovation. Expenditure on R&D by global competitors, on the other hand, is rising steadily. In order to be able to hold its own in this global competition between research regions, the European Research Area needs the best conditions for researchers, more internationally visible centres of excellence and even better networking. To secure and strengthen scientific quality and innovative capacity, expenditure on R&I must also increase at the European level. Good ideas should not be lost in Europe – but in Horizon2020, only one out of ten projects applied for has been approved so far. It would therefore be desirable to double the funding quotas in Horizon Europe by increasing the budget. Following the partial agreement reached on Horizon Europe, it is therefore essential to implement a substantial budget increase for R&I in the forthcoming budget negotiations on the EU financial framework for the years 2021 to 2027.

Even in difficult times, research and innovation deserve highest priority. Knowledge is Europe’s only substantial raw material and an indispensable fuel for its competitiveness, growth and jobs!

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