EU countries back down over ‘bizarre’ cuts to Horizon budget

But lead negotiator for parliament’s research committee said refusal to plough more unspent funds back into programme ‘cannot stand’ 

November 15, 2022
European Parliament, Strasbourg

A leading MEP has welcomed the reversal of cuts to Horizon Europe but said the refusal to return more unspent funds to the oft-poached programme is unacceptable.

The European Union agreed the bloc’s budget for 2023 just before a midnight deadline on 14 November, including a reinstatement of €663 million (£577.9 million) which had been cut from Horizon by ministers in the European Council.

The 2023 budget for the programme, which still needs a final vote of approval from MEPs, is €12.4 billion. “I am happy we managed to reverse most of the bizarre cuts proposed by the council,” said MEP Christian Ehler, who represented the European Parliament’s research committee for the three-week negotiations with EU finance ministers in the council.

“The council’s position on the union budget is completely removed from the policy objectives the council decides on,” he said, giving digitalisation and climate change as examples where national governments had called for cuts to programmes designed to address them.

“This cannot go on. If we want the Green Deal to succeed, we need to invest in Horizon Europe,” he said, referring to a raft of environmental investments and measures that is a centrepiece of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s political programme.

As well as reversing the cuts for 2023, the deal adds a modest €10 million to the EU’s doctoral and postdoctoral Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, which was expanded this year with a €25 million funding call for researchers from Ukraine.

The talks ended with €69 million in unspent money from the EU budget being rolled back into Horizon. The EU institutions have agreed that €500 million should return to the seven-year R&D programme in this way, although finance ministers and MEPs are split on whether the figure should be a maximum or a minimum.

Dr Ehler said there was still €650 million in unused funds that should have also gone back into the programme, calling the non-transfer a “retroactive cut on research” and saying it “cannot stand”.

No additional money was taken from Horizon to fund the Chips Act, designed to help boost EU semiconductor manufacturing. It caused controversy earlier this year when officials said they wanted to take €400 million from Horizon and replace it using unspent funds, rather than returning them to EU governments.

The parliament’s budget committee will discuss the deal later this week, with the whole parliament set to vote on the agreement on 23 November.

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