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  • Researchers: boost lobby or go bust

    - The final round of discussions on Horizon 2020 has started, but it’s really up to the European Heads of State to make or break European Research policy. How much must Research suffer to save the farmers and the Social Fund?

    Last week the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council started their ‘trialogue’ to align their different positions on Horizon 2020. Much more important for the future of European R&D-policies will be the outcome of the next round of negotiations on the 7 year budget by the European heads of State (European Council). Government leaders will probably convene again at the end of February on the highly problematic topic of financing the EU.

    Commissioner already disappointed

    The signs for Horizon 2020 are not favourable. During a question and answer session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week, European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (for Research, Innovation and Science) showed major disappointment on the state of play of the 7 year budget negotiations (the multiannual financial framework or MFF).

    Geoghegan-Quinn: “I can understand that Member States have their own priorities and that the net contributors among the Member States feel that it is their first priorities to reduces the overall budget of the EU. But I would have expected that within that reduction, people would look to the policy areas that create jobs and growth, because that is the only way that the EU can remain a global player. From that point of view the discussions on the MFF have been disappointing.”

    The Commissioner seemed to turn to the European Parliament for help, as she demanded the respective Members of Parliament to pressure their national governments on the issue of Horizon 2020. Geoghegan-Quinn’s spokesperson Michael Jennings (@ECspokesScience) even asked his followers on twitter to sign the petition of the Young Academy of Europe, meant to secure the research and innovation budget in Europe.

    Why negotiations fail Research

    The Members of the European Parliament are not only under pressure of Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, when it comes to voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the 7 year budget, the national governments will exert extreme pressure on MEPs to avoid the overthrow of their compromise by the European Parliament.

    A Parliament-insider explains: “The negotiations on the budget go like this: they ask Poland ‘what is the absolute minimum you want to receive out of the Cohesion funds’, then they ask France ‘what is the absolute minimum you want to receive out of the CAP (common agriculture budget)’ en finally they ask Germany ‘what is the absolute maximum you want to pay’. And this then forms the basis for a consensus in the European Council.”

    The problem with this negotiation method is that the Competitiveness budget, out of which Horizon 2020 is financed, loses out completely. It gets squeezed between the farmers on the one hand and the ‘new Member States’ on the other.

    Making a desperate plea

    Even the clever Herman van Rompuy has thus far not succeeded in saving the European Research budget. His first negotiation proposal that more or less secured Horizon 2020, was immediately rejected by France. In his second proposal, in December 2012, the Research budget was “slashed”, says an insider.

    Just like Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn made a somewhat desperate plea to the European Parliament to influence the national governments, Van Rompuy appealed to the Young Academy of Europe to lobby Member States for a more reasonable European research budget.

    It seems now up to the research community itself to step up its lobby activities.