EU research investment from 2007 to 2013 will fall ?20 billion short of previous agreements.

Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France

An agreement on European Union budgets signed on May 17 confirms that EU research investment between 2007 and 2013 will fall €20 billion (?13.6 billion) short of the €67.8 billion suggested by the European commission.

The commission’s original proposal in April, 2005 was broadly supported by the European parliament. State governments, however, insisted on the need to cap spending.

Recalling that the forthcoming seventh framework research programme (FP7) is supposed to support the EU’s declared aim of becoming ’the world’s biggest knowledge-based economy’, the funding package was described as ’grossly inadequate’ by former Belgian premier, Jean-Luc Dehaene, speaking for the centre-right alliance that dominates the parliament.

In part, FP7 fell victim to protracted intergovernmental wrangling during 2005 on budgetary issues such as the UK’s ’rebate’ on contributions to the EU, and demands from new member states that they too should benefit fully from EU farm subsidies.

With 90 per cent of EU programmes, including the current FP6 for 2002-2006, due to expire by the end of the year, the parliament had to accept the best deal possible, rather than risk disruption, according to German MEP Reimer Boege.

Boege was one of the parliamentary negotiators who secured an additional €4 billion from ministers in April, of which €300 million is earmarked for R&D.

FP7 contributions to cross-border research collaborations will start at €5.1 billion in 2007, rising to €8.8 billion in 2013. 

Commission spokesmen sought to put a positive spin on the outcome, claiming that the FP7 funding represents a 40 per cent increase on the FP6 endowment.

However, FP6 was a year shorter in duration, and covered an EU of 15 states, whereas EU membership is likely to increase to at least 27 during the lifetime of FP7.

Current MEPs hope that their successors in the next parliament, due to be installed in 2009, will have better luck in a mid-term funding review scheduled that year.