Thousands of frustrated researchers call for EU funding processes to be simplified and cut out unnecessary paperwork

Thousands of frustrated researchers have signed a petition calling for change to the European Union’s funding processes, criticising the current system as untrusting, complicated and riddled with cumbersome financial and administrative regulations. 

The declaration, which calls for urgent simplification of processes related to a range of European funding programmes, had over 7,600 signatures as of 17 March. Frustration with the current system is clear from comments made by the signatories, complaining of ’drowning in administration’ and noting ’the more paperwork, the less research’.

Olivier Küttel is one of the petition organisers and director of Euresearch in Switzerland: ’We are doing this because we are deeply convinced that the way research is funded in Europe should change,’ he says. ’It does not make sense to fund research by using the same rules that are applied for giving subsidies to the agricultural sector or other similar procurement processes.’

Signatures will be collected until the summer, when the petition will be submitted to the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, he says.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU commissioner for research, innovation and science, has already indicated her intention to streamline and simplify funding rules. Küttel says this is a good sign, but that a major overhaul of the system requires support from the European Council and Parliament. 

Anne Katrin Werenskiold, head of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry’s EU office, signed the petition and says ’some aspects’ of EU funding processes have improved under the current Framework Programme 7 system compared to Framework 6, but that much more needs to be done give scientists freedom from EU bureaucracy. 

’Researchers are under permanent supervision and permanent suspicion,’ she says. ’I have no problem with justifying the expenses we have. I have a problem with the commission trying to be involved in micro-management.’ 

She believes creative basic research is being stifled by current EU policy that requires researchers to define project ’deliverables’. It would be better to require a broad, flexible outline of research objectives, which would be more in line with, for example, the German Research Foundation, Germany’s main public funding agency. 

’In basic research, if you can define what you are going to deliver, then it would not be creative,’ she says. 

Ned Stafford