“If the EU agreed to take away money from the existing budgetary categories on research to boost the new institute, it might harm the competitive process among other players interested to get the money by placing a forced preference. We should definitely avoid this.”
The request for a revised financial plan has come from the European parliament which is directly involved in decisions on the bloc’s spending. The commission has predicted the costs of the EIT at around €2.4bn until 2013. The bulk of that sum should be covered directly by the EU budget – €308 million for six years starting in 2008. In addition to that, Brussels also wants to use €1.5 billion from other EU programmes, such as from a research package and other structural funds aimed at boosting Europe’s competitiveness and innovation.
But MEPs in the budgets committee are opposing this. In a draft opinion to be adopted on 5 June, the Czech centre-right deputy Nina Skottová argues that “from a legal point of view, there seem to be at least serious doubts as to whether such double-funding [directly from EU budget and through EU programmes] is admissible.” At a meeting last week, parliamentarians asked the commission to put forward a fresh budgetary plan by the end of this week, with a German presidency insider commenting, “it will be very difficult to find other than earlier proposed sources.”
Opposition on all fronts
The commission also envisages the contribution of around €527 million by member states and – most crucially – from the private sector, to finance the EIT. However, according to Pierre Simon, the president of Eurochambers, the business will only be ready to join in co-financing once the actual architecture of the institute is set and stable. “We need a concrete project. Everyday you see companies ready to invest in innovation. When we see the outline of concrete projects on the table, the private sector will come up with cash to support them,” Mr Simon commented.
For its part, the commission is seeking to play down the budget issue. “We have moved from a phase when we were asking if we should have such an institute, to debating when and how we should set it up. It is only natural that the issue of budget is the last to be solved,” says EU education commissioner Jan Figel.
The shape of the institute
According to the latest agreement among member states, the EU institute should be composed of networks of universities, research institutions and companies, which are later to develop into partnerships.
The EIT will have a two-level structure with a governing board set to choose which universities, research centres and businesses will one day form so-called Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC). Both businesses and universities are pressing for highly respected figures to be chosen to stand in the governing board and for it to be completely independent from EU institutions.
Each of the KICs will focus on a specific topic such as climate change or energy efficiency but the university diplomas will be awarded only by participating universities, not directly by the EIT – as there is no legal basis for such a provision.
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