There is considerable concern among the scientific community about proposals to raid European research funding to establish the European Fund for Strategic Investments.
Last month 28 Nobel Laureates and 13 Laureates of other international prizes wrote to the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and the heads of government of European members states to express dismay at the shortsightedness of these proposals.
Read the full letter (PDF).
And UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, expressed his concern that Juncker’s infrastructure plan should not harm Britain’s world-leading science sector. The UK does relatively well in attracting EU research funding.
The proposals are now being scrutinised by a number of Committees in the European Parliament before entering trialogue discussions between the European Parliament, Council and Commission.
The Society has supported a joint statement expressing concern at these measures and is working closely with MEPs scrutinising the proposals.
In the UK, the proposals have been briefly considered by the Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the Lords EU Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee and are due to be discussed by EU scrutiny committee B.
The European research funding programme (called Horizon 2020) was developed over two and a half years with much discussion and scrutiny. The current proposals are expected to be agreed by July 2015 and payments are being fast-tracked with some promised before the summer.
The European Fund for Strategic Investment proposals would result in 2.7 billion euro being redeployed from the Horizon 2020 allocation (Europe’s research funding programme) to the EFSI guarantee fund. This would result in cuts to agreed Horizon 2020 programmes and the European Research Council, which was established in 2007 to fund investigator-driven frontier research (or as we commonly call it ‘basic’ or ‘discovery’ research).
Concerns have been raised that this sends out the wrong message about Europe’s commitment to research and innovation and does not recognise its central role in generating growth. Researchers are mobile and could choose to go elsewhere. As a comparison, South Korea is ranked first in the Bloomberg Innovation Index and also tops the global ranking in terms of investment into R&D. The US is ranked sixth in the same index and is currently debating proposals for a 6% increase in scientific research and development. Europe has itself set an objective to reach 3% R&D intensity by 2020 in the Europe 2020 strategy. It is not clear how these cuts will impact on this. You can see an update on progress against this target in the recently published results of a public consultation on the Europe 2020 strategy. In the latest 2013 data, the EU is at 2.02%.
As the Society set out in our joint statement Building a stronger future, research needs a stable, long-term environment to flourish – this is crucial for investigations that span decades or even lifetimes. Alongside this, the statement also points out that research is not a predictable game and we cannot know the outcomes at the outset but investment in frontier research is crucial to generate the knowledge that will inform future innovation. Raiding research funding which has already been agreed sets off alarm bells within the research community.
The discussion now underway in Europe provides an opportunity for MEPs to explore alternative approaches to funding and implementing the plan.
The Society will continue working with partners in the UK and across Europe to urge for a constructive way forward to be found that does not jeopardise the long term health of European research and innovation.