The head of the European Research Council (ERC) has described planned cuts to research and innovation budgets as a “major step backwards” compared to the funding ambitions of the European Parliament and European Commission.
In an interview with New Europe, Interim President of the ERC Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said that “national EU leaders did not at all deliver in terms of the previously expressed ambition for research and innovation”.
The planned cuts have come as a result of compromises made by EU leaders in the process of hammering out a new long-term budget proposal and financial package designed to save the European economy from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bourguignon said that the new budget would “mean that the core research and innovation budget of the EU does not live up to the political ambitions set”.
“That’s not only dramatic and detrimental – it is also very surprising these days when the world is in the middle of a pandemic – a crisis that has made it crystal-clear that science is more crucial than ever, also to be prepared for future challenges.”
The ERC has been firmly opposed to the new budget since its announcement in mid-July.
In 2017, €120 billion was earmarked for research and innovation as part of Horizon Europe, a seven-year EU scientific research initiative. However, that has shrunk to €86 billion in the latest budget.
In a statement last month, the ERC Scientific Council said that “if agreed, this figure would mean that, in real terms, there would be no increase to the core research and innovation budget of the EU for the first time ever”.
“We cannot imagine that Europe’s leaders can agree to this, while at the same time relying on the dedication and skills of Europe’s researchers to fight the ongoing global pandemic, and be ready to address unexpected future challenges”, they added.
The ERC – which came into existence in 2007 – has supported over 10,000 researchers in Europe, 7,000 of them below 40 years of age. ERC-funded researchers have won seven Nobel Prizes in that time.
Innovation and research have been pillars of Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris’s vision for the future of the Irish third-level sector.
In June, Harris said: “I know only too well in light of the covid pandemic the huge pressures that there are to get people back to work, to help people upskill, to help people keep a job or gain a new job.”
“Research, innovation, science – these are the things that can help drive investment to our country and also can help businesses right across our country.”
The ERC handed out only four grants to Irish researchers this year. Trinity professor Dan Bradley won a grant worth €2.5 million for his work in the field of ancient epigenetics.
Bradley, a professor of population genetics, received the grant to support AncestralWeave, an investigation into the ancient genomes of cattle, sheep and goats to better understand when and where periods of ancient human innovation shaped breeding patterns.