EGU statement: Proposed cuts to EU science funding could slow future research and innovation
21 October 2020
Research and innovation are key drivers of productivity and economic growth, significantly contributing to technological breakthroughs and scientific advancements that are crucial for addressing Europe’s economic and societal challenges. Unfortunately, Europe is now at risk of falling behind other global science leaders. Despite the European Parliament’s initial proposal to allocate €120 billion to research and innovation during the next decade, the current proposal has slashed the budget for research and innovation to €81 billion (at 2018 prices), just 2% of GDP and well below the nearly 3% currently spent by the U.S. and nearly 2.5% spent by China. This reduced research and innovation spending could impact economic growth and jeopardise Europe’s position as a leader in key scientific areas.
The European Geosciences Union (EGU) is concerned that the diminished research and innovation budget, if passed, will weaken the European economy, prevent Europe from reaching the Green Deal’s ambitious targets, and reduce its resilience to widespread crises such as COVID-19. The EGU is especially concerned about cuts to frontier research funding distributed by the European Research Council (ERC), Europe’s primary funder of blue-skies research. This new budget proposal designates €5 billion for a pandemic recovery fund for which the ERC is not eligible, which represents a major budget cut.
Now is not the time to cut back on EU science research funding. As the ongoing pandemic and intensifying effects of climate change clearly demonstrate, Europe needs to invest in, rather than defund, its scientists and its research and innovation sector. More than 70% of the ERC’s completed projects have led to discoveries or major advances to address pressing economic, environmental, and societal issues, including more than 180 ongoing or completed ERC projects that are contributing to Europe’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the private sector has the capacity to support EU research and innovation programmes, relying on the private sector and public-private research partnerships to fill the funding gaps is not enough given the uncertainty surrounding the global economy.
The EGU is also concerned that a diminished EU research and innovation budget will have devastating effects on Early Career Scientists, who represent approximately 50% of the EGU’s membership. “Early Career Scientists are the future of the scientific world,” says Anouk Beniest, EGU’s Early Career Scientist Representative. “We learn a good deal from previous generations, but there is a point at which we have to become independent and start our own research lines.”
This independence requires financial support, says Beniest, and the ERC therefore plays an important role in the development of Europe’s junior researchers. “Financial resources are indispensable for Early Career Scientists to lay a solid foundation for their research programmes,” she says. “The ERC Starting Grants programme is one of the best examples of funding for Early Career Scientists to pursue their most ambitious scientific goals.”
The EGU urges all EU leaders to prioritise research funding, including funds for fundamental science through the ERC, in Horizon Europe and the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework. Adopting the European Parliament’s October proposal for a €39 billion increase to their 15 flagship programmes, including Horizon Europe, is an important first step. However, given that research funding is only a small piece of the proposed increase, more methods of boosting the Horizon Europe budget also need to be found to ensure that there will be enough funding to accomplish Europe’s environmental, social, and technological ambitions during the next seven years.
We encourage EGU members to react to this statement. If you have comments that you would like to see added to this piece, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to support funding for the ERC in the next long-term EU budget, you can sign this petition from the Friends of the ERC.