The fight has begun over Europe’s big budget increase for science

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Research commissioner Carlos Moedas promised “radical change” to EU innovation policies yesterday at a press conference in Brussels. Georges Boulougouris/© European Union, 2018

European universities are unhappy about the details, announced yesterday, of Horizon Europe, the European Union’s new 7-year research program that will start in 2021. They say the 22% increase in funding overall proposed by the European Commission is the bare minimum and worry that the program shortchanges basic research in favor of innovation funding. “We will fight for a better distribution of the budget,” says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) in Leuven, Belgium.

The commission had announced some proposed features of Horizon Europe—the successor to the current 7-year program, Horizon 2020—in the past few months, including its overall budget. Details of the plan were unveiled yesterday by Carlos Moedas, the commission’s research chief, at a press conference in Brussels. The €94.1 billion that the commission proposes spending for Horizon Europe in 2021–27 aims to bring “radical change” to innovation policies while preserving funding for “what we always did: good fundamental science,” Moedas said.

Of the total, €16.6 billion would go to the European Research Council (ERC), which gives out generous basic research grants. This is an increase from €13.1 billion under Horizon 2020, the current 7-year program, but ERC’s share of the whole program’s budget would remain at about 17%. Meanwhile, the well-liked Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships for doctoral programs, postdocs, and staff exchanges would see their share decrease slightly, from 8% of Horizon 2020 to about 7% under Horizon Europe. At the same time, the commission wants to spend €10.5 billion—about 11% of the 7-year budget—on the European Innovation Council (EIC), a brand-new agency that will provide funding for entrepreneurs, to stimulate breakthrough technologies without prescribing priority areas.