Committees tell President Jean-Claude Juncker to think again on funding for stimulus package

Key European parliament committees have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to divert €2.7 billion (£2.1 billion) of research funding to help finance a new EU-wide economic stimulus package. The final decision on whether the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme will be raided is not likely to be made until the summer.

European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker proposed the stimulus plan, known as the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), in November. He said that the €21 billion package would be leveraged 15 times over for a net injection into the European economy of €315 billion.

The task to find a better way to finance EFSI won’t be easy

While voicing support for the EFSI and its goals, the resolution, approved on 20 April by the parliament’s budget committee and the economic and monetary affairs committee, said it cannot support the transfer of research funding and asked Juncker to submit a new funding plan. The committees also called for several other changes to the EFSI proposal, including improving the fund’s transparency and adding parliamentary oversight.

The parliamentary vote was closely watched by researchers and research organisations opposed to diverting Horizon 2020 money, including a delegation of 50 leaders of UK universities that traveled to Brussels to lobby EU lawmakers.

Miguel Seabra, president of Science Europe, praised members of parliament for defending European research. ‘I hope that this positive signal is now followed by the rest of the European institutions and by the member states,’ he said. ‘The task to find a better way to finance EFSI won’t be easy but it’s a crucial one.’

The parliamentary resolution is only the first step toward protecting Horizon 2020. Two days after the resolution was approved, representatives of parliament, the European council and the commission began negotiations with the goal of reaching a compromise final agreement by the summer.

Three outcomes are possible. Parliament will yield and all the requested Horizon 2020 money will be diverted, a compromise will be reached with only part of the money siphoned off or Juncker will agree to leave Horizon 2020 untouched.

On the same day that the parliament and council began negotiations on a final agreement, the European Investment Bank (EIB), which would administer the EFSI, issued a press release announcing the first four projects to be funded.

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) issued a statement criticising the EIB for approving projects before the EFSI has been officially founded. ‘The upcoming negotiations on the draft EFSI regulation between [parliament and the council] now seem to be a waste of time: the EIB and the European commission already go ahead, without a legal basis, without EFSI and without the [parliament’s] consent.’