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The level of EU education and research funding for the next year is depending on the ongoing political negotiations on the EU Budget for 2015 as well as on the pending Draft Amending Budgets for 2014. The topic has been hot for the past two months. In fact, the Council of the EU approved its position on the EU draft budget - proposed by the European Commission- already in September, recommending to make considerable cuts to some payments, especially in the areas of research and innovation. By contrast the European Parliament, which approved its position in late October, proposed to reverse these cuts and further invest those priority areas.
In order to come to an agreement between the position of the Council and the one of Parliament, three weeks of ‘conciliation’ took place between both institutions, starting from 28 October. The three weeks concluded on 17 November with no decision taken. In fact, the European Parliament received Council’s negotiating position on the very last day of the three-week period, leaving no more time to conciliate the diverging positions. With no agreement reached, the European Commission will have to present a new draft budget and re-launch the budget procedure.
The cuts would affect in particular the Erasmus+ programme, for which the European Commission can expect a disruption in beneficiaries’ grant payments, and the Horizon 2020 framework - the biggest EU research and innovation programme under which are falling both the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants and the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships. For Horizon 2020, the current situation of payment shortages had already meant that the Commission had to reduce the level of pre-financing for new commitments from 60% under Framework Programme 7 to 35% under Horizon 2020. Over 70 projects amounting to EUR 36 million had been blocked, and were incurring interest for late payments.
This situation is clearly a concern for universities across Europe. At this regard, the European University Association (EUA) issued a statement expressing concern about cuts to research and innovation funding proposed by the Council. According to the EUA, the cuts proposed are not in line with the objective to create a competitive European knowledge society and with policy-makers’ declarations that research and education are crucial for Europe’s future. If implemented, the cuts might lead to an increase of inequality across Europe. In fact, according to the OECD report on Research & Development (R&D), European countries are diverging in R&D as some move closer to their R&D/GDP targets (Denmark, Germany) while others (Portugal, Spain) fall further behind. This would jeopardise not only universities but also EU economic growth and job creation.