After the shocking cut to the Horizon Europe budget at the European Summit last July (€13.5 billion taken out, representing more than 15% of its budget) a lot of efforts have been made by many in the scientific community to argue why it was so critical to repair the damage done in order to make credible the political ambitions stated in terms of societal transitions (climate change, digitalisation, new health perspectives) that all rely on key contributions from research and innovation.
In this context, the openness and the interest shown by many deputies in the European Parliament have been highly appreciated. This encouraged many scientists to approach their governments and make the case for Frontier Research and the need to take a longer view in the preparation of a seven-year framework programme than just dealing with emergency issues.
Thanks to the efficient engagement of the negotiators of the European Parliament, the trilogue of 10 November resulted in €4 billion being added to the Horizon Europe budget, a small but still significant step to repair the damage.
The key issue still pending is of course the breakdown of this supplementary budget. The proposal made by the EU Council to reserve the €5 billion coming from the Next Generation EU Fund to some actions in Pillar 2 of Horizon Europe and the European Innovation Council (EIC) has increased significantly the imbalance between pillars. In Horizon 2020, Pillar 1 “Excellent Science”, hosting the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), the European Research Council (ERC) and the large infrastructures, represented 32% of the overall budget when it is presently down to only 25%. This is why all organisations representing the university community (the European University Association, the League of European Research Universities, the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, the CESAER representing science and technology universities) and the G6 (the Italian CNR, the French CNRS, the Spanish CSIC, the Helmholtz Gemeinschaft, the Leibniz Gemeinschaft and the Max-Planck Gesellschaft) have all defended the view that the totality or at least a large part of the €4 billion should go to the Pillar 1 “Excellent Science”.
A similar view is also defended by many in the European Parliament.
The final budgetary discussion concerning Horizon Europe is likely to take place in the coming days. Motivated by the lack of prospects offered to them, a group of young researchers decided to launch on their own a campaign called “#RescueHorizonEurope” that received, and is still receiving, a massive echo. They too defend the allocation of the extra €4 billion to Pillar 1.
The members of the ERC Scientific Council have been actively engaged in many aspects of this battle for the simple reason that the present proposed ERC budget (€14.861 billion in current prices), if not corrected, would mean a freeze of the ERC resources for the seven years to come (except a yearly 2% increase for inflation) at a level slightly below the 2020 budget reduced to 27 countries (after the UK departure). This level is already insufficient now since, every year, the ERC identifies about 30% more absolutely excellent proposals than the ones it can fund. We clearly see this as a considerable threat for the development of bottom-up Frontier Research in Europe and to the overall competitiveness of Europe in view of the intensity of the international competition and the massive investments made in other continents. The absolutely minimal budget that leaves some hope for non-stagnation to the ERC is €16.6 billion in current prices.
We, members of the ERC Scientific Council, therefore urge all people who care for the future of Frontier Research in Europe to express their views by all means before it is too late. We must offer decent prospects to the next generation of researchers in Europe.