Universities furious about cuts to European research budget

| HOP, Evelien Flink

More than 800 universities have expressed anger at the European Council’s proposal to partially reverse a proposed budget increase for the Horizon Europe research programme, which would cost European higher education €5 billion.

EU member states are currently in negotiations about the budget they plan to spend in the next seven years. The chairman of the European Council, Charles Michel, presented a new budget proposal last week.


In May, the European Council had proposed a budget of €94.4 billion for the next seven years for the research and innovation programme Horizon Europe. Of this total, €13.5 billion would be provided by a special European coronavirus recovery fund.

In Michel’s new proposal, the total budget amounts to €89.4 billion. This still includes the €13.5 billion top-up from the recovery fund, meaning that in total, Michel has budgeted €75.9 billion for Horizon Europe.

This is €5 billion less than the amount the European Commission had proposed in May and €7.6 billion less than what was proposed in 2018. At the same time it’s slightly more than the budget for the 2014-2020 period, when the investment amounted to €74 billion.

Step back

European universities fear for their research budgets and have launched a campaign using the hashtag #EUInvestInKnowledge. In a joint statement, they claim that top-quality European research is particularly important in times of crisis. The campaign is also supported by the European Research Council.

Chairperson Pieter Duisenberg of the VSNU Association of Universities posted on Twitter that the budget cut constitutes an ‘enormous step backward’ for the European Innovation Agenda. He believes cutting corners in this way will cost the Dutch economy no less than €3.6 billion.

Last Tuesday, D66, GroenLinks, PvdA and ChristenUnie discussed their concerns regarding the €5 billion budget cut in a debate in the House of Representatives. But Prime Minister Rutte claims that ‘budget cut’ is too strong a term. ‘Those budgets are still being fortified.’


‘This calculation is incredibly complicated’, explains policy officer Joep Roet of Neth-ER, the outpost of Dutch research expertise in Brussels. ‘It all depends on how you compare these figures and the adjustments you make. In this discussion everyone uses the amount that best illustrates their argument.’

When compared to the budget for the 2014-2020 period, Roet believes the new budget is basically the same: €74 billion compared to €75.9 billion. ‘But therein lies the problem. A much-needed increase was announced; a decision that now appears to have been reversed.’

For every euro

Roet is hopeful that the outcry of European universities will pay off. ‘This requires attention in both Brussels and the Netherlands. Sadly, the Netherlands tends to be unwilling to make additional investments in Europe, even though a smaller budget would also affect things from which our country benefits.’

For every euro the Netherlands contributes to the research and innovation fund, it receives one and a half in return, he explains. ‘Those funds do not go to the agricultural sector but to our universities, university medical centres, universities of applied sciences and the business community. We would really lose out if these funds were to disappear.’

Today and Saturday, the European Council will reconvene in Brussels for the first time in months. One of the items on the agenda is Michel’s budget proposal.

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