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As governments across Europe are putting all efforts on fighting the pandemic, a contingency plan (or several of them) seems to be the only solution for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the next seven-year EU budget due to run starting next year.
The proposals now have the added imperative of thinking about saving finances following the coronavirus crisis. An economic shock seems inevitable, hence the need for recovery packages.
Budget negotiations are known to be difficult even in the best of circumstances, already at a trialogue standstill in the pre-covid19 period. With no possibility for the EU leaders to meet face-to-face and thus have the usual informal discussions and no prospective vaccine to put an end to uncertainties, negotiating the MFF has become even more complex than what could have been imagined.
Two possibilities are on the table: Under the terms of the current MFF, the Commission has the option to extend the budget for at least one year (however, now it would have to count it without the UK), research would get the same share and would not require any special legislation while having the possibility to be an accelerated process. Another possibility is simply to operate month to month starting January 2021, extending the 2020 budget on a monthly basis. That latter option would, however, put a hold on research missions and partnerships within Horizon Europe while still allowing existing projects to continue.
Erasmus + and Horizon Europe now face even more uncertainties than they did just a couple months ago. Before Covid-19 the question was already “What is next for these programs? Post Covid-19, the question now ponders “What can be next for these programs?”
Erasmus+ currently receives a EUR14,7 billion in funding and in May 2018, the European Commission had proposed to take it up to EUR30 billion. Just a year later, the European Parliament had proposed to triple the funding to EUR45 billion, which was followed by the surprising draft European Council conclusions for the multiannual budget for the EU 2021-2027 suggesting only a EUR21 billion funding. To add to the uncertainty, Brexit would cause the EU to lose between EUR10 and EUR12 billion per year. Despite negotiations on 20 and 21 February between EU leaders, Council President Charles Michel had announced that more time was needed, which was already putting the budget far behind compared to when the last budget had been agreed upon on 8 February 2013. In this regard, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ were already in limbo at the time.