EB president Smits pleads for Horizon Europe

If it’s up to the European Commission, the budget for Horizon Europe, EU's research and innovation program for the next seven years, will remain unaffected by the current crisis surrounding the coronavirus. But will the member states and the European Parliament agree? Executive Board president Robert-Jan Smits, responsible for the prior program Horizon 2020, pleads for securing the budget. “This crisis once again makes it clear that politicians can only make decisions based on data provided by scientists.”

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“The great importance of research and innovation is once again made clear by the current crisis,” Smits says. “Scientists provide the data on which politicians base their decisions about a lockdown and the softening of regulations. Besides that, everybody understands that ‘going back to normal’ will depend on the speed and creativity of researchers when it comes to the development of the right medication and a vaccine.”

With this response Smits reacts on the presentation on Wednesday by the European Commission of its new budget proposal of 1,100 billion euros, along with a 750 billion euros reconstruction programme to help deal with the impact of the coronavirus. The budget also includes 94.4 billion euros for Horizon Europe, the successor of Horizon 2020. According to the Commission, this money should be spent primarily on health research, on ‘resilience in Europe’, and on the digital and green transitions.

Stingy four

 At the start of this year, shortly before the coronavirus reached Europe, the European budget was already the subject of some tough talking in Brussels. Back then, the European Commission was already proposing to earmark 94 billion euros for Horizon Europe, as well as 1.11 percent of GDP for the entire EU budget. But the ‘stingy four’ - the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark - opposed spending any more than 1 percent of GDP on the EU. There were already fears that the Horizon Europe budget would be whittled down to a much lower 75 billion euros. Smits is also aware of this danger. “When there is no increase in the total budget of the EU, that will surely have its effects on the budget for Horizon Europe.”

And it will also have negative consequences for the institution that he is now leading for a year. Smits: “TU/e is one of the strongest Dutch competitors in the European research programs. A big budget for Horizon Europe is also in our own interest."

The question is how the Netherlands will respond to the new budget proposals. Minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra had previously announced his own recovery programme proposals for member states hit the hardest by the coronavirus. It is not inconceivable that the Netherlands will dig its heels in once again.

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