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On 29 June 2011, the European Commission unveiled its Communication titled A Budget for Europe 2020. The budget proposal is 500 pages in length and divided into two parts. The Commission proposes to increase overall funding by about 5%, compared to the present seven-year period. However, it proposes not to increase the financial burden on EU member states. Instead, it wants to leverage its own future funding sources – a financial transactions tax and a new VAT resource (the EU budget does already now benefit from VAT income).
The Communication explicitly refers to increased investment in research, innovation and technical development as well as in education. The budget allocated for research is EUR 80 billion (plus EUR 60 billion from the Structural Funds) and the budget for education is 15.2 billion (plus EUR 72 billion from Structural Funds). The latter represents an increase of EUR 6.1 billion from present funding levels (which stand at EUR 9.1 billion), or 68%, according to a press release by the European Civil Society Platform on Lifelong Learning (EUCIS-LLL).
From part I of the core document, it remains unclear which component of the future Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) will receive the biggest funding increase. There are indications that vocational education training (VET) will be the most strengthened, as a means to fight the high youth employment rate in Europe. Nevertheless, there is also talk of a European Investment Bank (EIB) “guarantee” for master-level students studying in another EU country. However, it is uncertain if the EIB funds are part of the EUR15.2 billion educational share.
Across the policy areas, and therefore also in the areas of education/training/youth and in research/innovation, the Commission seems to intend to create larger programmes, by merging existing ones, hoping that this will create economies of scale.
In the field of education, an “Education Europe Programme” is to be created, which appears to integrate into the present LLP the “existing international programmes, such as Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Alfa, Edulink and cooperation programmes with industrialized countries”. The Commission expresses the hope that “this approach will put an end to the current fragmentation of EU instruments supporting international cooperation in higher education”. This seems to imply that one single programme for higher education only will exist, but elsewhere the documents suggest that there will be one mega-programme for all levels of education, also including VET and youth.
Some streamlining also seems to be envisaged in research/innovation, under a “common strategic framework” for research with the name “Horizon 2020”.
While the ball is now in the European Parliament’s and Council’s corner, which must express their views on Commission’s communication, more immediate good news comes from the research side. The Commission announced this month some EUR 7 billion of additional funding under FP7 to “kick-start innovation through research”. This is the European Commission’s largest such funding package, and will be distributed in the form of grants for project proposals that tackle big societal challenges. It is estimated that this funding stream will benefit 16 000 recipients and that it will contribute to the creation of 174 000 jobs in the short term. The calls for proposals have been published on 20 July and are available on the CORDIS website.
European Commission – Communication – A Budget for Europe 2020