The Multiannual Financial Framework – a look into the future of Research and Innovation funding beyond 2020
‘Everyone said they want more research – it’s happening’
Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission President at the unveiling of the proposal.
On May 1st, the EU Commission published its proposal for a ‘modern budget for a Union that protects, empowers and defends’, that would come into effect on January 1st, 2021 where it will be the first long-term budget of for the European Union of 27. This is a first glimpse into what the future of Research and Innovation (R&I) funding might look like post-Horizon 2020, especially since Brexit will have come into effect by then.
The new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is being promoted as a reframing of older budgets where the key focus has been on simplification, transparency and flexibility, having recognised that ‘recent experience has laid bare some weaknesses in the current framework’. In terms of EU budget for Research and Innovation (R&I), the MFF has proposed an overall investment of €114.8 billion, covering programmes such as Digital Europe Programme, Connecting Europe Facility, Euratom Research and Training Programme and the InvestEU fund. It also includes a new suggested budget for the FP9 – now officially called Horizon Europe – which currently stands at €97.6 billion (compared to €77 billion for Horizon 2020), with €10 billion specifically put aside for R&I in agriculture, food, bio-economy and rural development. Despite the 30% increase for Horizon Europe (taking into account inflation), this still falls short of the €120-160 billion requested by European Parliament and various lobbying groups before the proposal was published. However, Horizon Europe is still considered a flagship programme for the new MFF and has been designed around three core pillars: 1) The Open Science Pillar, that supports funding, fellowships and exchanges defined and driven by researchers themselves; 2) The Global Challenges Pillar which will directly support research that relates to societal challenges and key issues such as the fights against cancer, clean mobility and plastic-free oceans; and 3) The Open Innovation Pillar that aims to ‘make Europe a front runner in market-creating innovation’ where the European Innovation Council will be able to offer breakthrough technologies with the potential to scale up.
The research and innovation programmes have been placed into diversified policy areas, rather than lumped together into one overarching heading. This can be seen with certain R&I programmes being clustered under the ‘Single Market, Innovation and Digital’ heading. Whilst Erasmus+ can now be found under the ‘Cohesion and Values’ heading, with its program budget being increased to €30 billion. The growth in the budget of Erasmus+ is a consequence of the stronger ‘youth’ focus of the new MFF, with the programme cited as one of the Unions most visible success stories, creating educational opportunities as well as mobility amongst young Europeans. Carlos Moedas wrote recently that when deciding to name the new FP9, Horizon Europe, it was to mark ‘the first step on the road to the future’. In choosing ‘Horizon’, it keeps the clear message of ‘excellence’ that Horizon 2020 promoted, but by including ‘Europe’ in the new initiative, Moedas states that it is to demonstrate strength, as well as EU added value, in order to bridge ‘the past and the future of research and innovation in Europe’.
What does this mean for UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the future under this proposal? There is still a level of uncertainty as to whether the UK will take part in Horizon Europe but in a recent response to the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report, the government stated that it intends to participate in (what was known then as) FP9, unless there are clear differences between this framework and its predecessor, going as far to say that if there wasn’t that the government is ready to pay a ‘fair entry fee’ to secure this. It seems pertinent though to ask what these ‘clear differences’ that are unfavourable to the government might be, and the potential impact this may have on UK funding if access to Horizon Europe is no longer available.
Overall, there have been several changes made to the structure of the MFF with a want to strengthen the focus on EU added-value, creating less red tape for beneficiaries, as well as making the link between EU funding and the rule of law clearer. Another key message of the MFF is how it has been restricted to allow for its programs to be aligned with political priorities, giving Member States, and the EU Commission, the ability to react more easily to current events in a more flexible, agile manner where the European Union will be ‘big on big issues and small on small issues’. The Commission has proposed a budget of €1.135 trillion over the period of 2021-2027, the equivalent of 1.11% of the EU27s gross national income (GNI). The MFF proposal also states that it is responding in a ‘realistic and balanced way’ to the budgetary consequences of the UK’s withdrawal. In the MFF, the Commission is proposing to make savings by streamlining the budget, as well as proposed new sources of revenue. This can be seen in some of the key changes made to its structure, as well as the groupings of programs into new ‘policy clusters’ that streamline the current 58 programmes into 37, under 7 overarching headings: 1) Single Market, Innovation and Digital; 2) Cohesion and Values; 3) Natural Resources and Environment; 4) Security and Defense; 5) Migration and Border Management; 6) Neighbourhood and the World. The EU Commission presents the new structure as flexible in that funding can be moved across different years, as well as across programmes under the same headings (but not across them), in order to react to unforeseen events in our ever-increasingly globalised world. If you have any questions regarding the specifics of the overall budget breakdown, please see the EU Commission’s Q&A document.
There will be more rounds of scrutiny for the proposal before any final adoption. However, the EU Commission appears to be highly motivated to get it agreed upon by January 2019, otherwise it could run into a delay that puts its start date beyond 2021 creating uncertainty post-Brexit for all involved. This was a particular criticism of the previous implementation of the EU budget and the Commission is keen to avoid this at all costs. A fuller picture could be known as early as September 2018, hopefully giving those in UK universities a clearer picture on what Horizon Europe would entail and how the UK government might include this in Brexit negotiations.