Horizon Europe: The obstacles still facing negotiators

November 30, 2018

The political puzzles and tensions at play in member states’ latest round of talks for the EU’s 2021-2027 research programme

Research ministers from the 28 EU member states go into today’s talks on Horizon Europe looking to settle differences on how the bloc’s 2021-2027 research budget should be spent.

A draft compromise plan drawn up by Austria, which currently holds the council's rotating presidency and has been leading negotiations for the past five months, seeks to find agreement on a number of issues, but is facing opposition among various blocs of member states.

Member states’ aim is to have an outline deal by the end of the day – a blueprint that could keep everything on track to approve the research programme before EU elections in 2019.

Here’s a run-down of the main unresolved issues.

Clusters

According to a Council draft dated November 26, a majority of countries back a re-ordering of spending under the programme’s second pillar, which is slated to receive the biggest slice of the budget pie – €52.7 billion.

According to the European Commission’s original proposal for Horizon Europe, published in July, this amount should be divided among five clusters and the Joint Research Centre, which performs in-house research for the Commission.

The clusters:

  1. Health, €7.7 billion
  2. Inclusive and secure societies, €2.8 billion
  3. Digital and industry, €15 billion
  4. Climate, energy and mobility, €15 billion
  5. Food and natural resources, €10 billion

Now, a majority of member states want to see the cluster "inclusive and secure society" split into one on "culture and inclusive society" and another on "civil security for society".

Additional debate on splitting the other clusters “has proved to be more controversial”, the draft text says.

While some counties – including Estonia, Spain, Finland and Ireland – are coming out against any further atomising of the clusters, there is support elsewhere for a cluster that focuses solely on “mobility”. Sources say the proposal is being pushed mainly from those countries, like France and Germany, with car industries.

Another group of countries – including Czech Republic, France, Poland and Portugal – want a new cluster on space. Austria, in search of a final compromise, is proposing to open up the digital and industry cluster to include all space-related research, and rename it, “digital, industry and space”. 

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