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Research Funding

Europe’s science budget set to grow despite Brexit

Horizon Europe raises stakes in global technology race

by Paula Dupraz-Dobias, special to C&EN
July 19, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 30


With less than a year remaining ahead of the expected departure of the U.K. from the European Union, the European Commission unveiled in June one of the world’s biggest research programs, known as Horizon Europe, to run from 2021 to 2027.

Charts showing breakdown and comparison of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding.
Funding on the horizon
The EU's Horizon Europe proposal prioritizes funding to solve global challenges.
Note: Figures converted from euros to U.S. dollars at the July 13 exchange rate of €1.00 = $1.17. a Includes European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fellowships. b Includes European Innovation Council and European Institute of Innovation & Technology.
Source: European Commission

The €94.1 billion ($110 billion) budget is a gain on the €77 billion attributed to the current Horizon 2020 program, which began in 2013. The proposed plan, which the EU’s science commissioner Carlos Moedas has called the “most ambitious ever,” would represent 10% of government research funding in the region.

The plan would shift funding from agricultural and regional development to innovation and technology. It comes as Europe attempts to keep pace with the U.S. and China on R&D spending, patents, and number of researchers.

Similarly to Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe has three main “pillars.” The proposal would give the first of these, called Open Science, €25.8 billion for projects “driven by researchers,” according to the commission. These include grants through the European Research Council and fellowship programs.

The largest share of the new funding, some €52.7 billion, would be devoted to pillar two, or projects intended to tackle global challenges that “worry us daily such as the fight against cancer, clean mobility and plastic free oceans,” the commission says in a fact sheet. The commission hopes to encourage more research and innovation in search of practical solutions to the challenges.

The third pillar, Open Innovation, is slated for €13.5 billion to make Europe a leader in market-creating innovation. The new European Innovation Council would receive approximately €10.5 billion of the pillar’s budget to help develop novel technologies and start-up companies.

The commission has argued that industrial competitiveness is central to the EU’s growth. Industry, it says, generates 80% of the EU’s exports and a fifth of all jobs. Past EU research programs helped develop mobile phone technology, biotechnology, and global positioning satellites.

Although the new research budget does not assume any contributions from the U.K., which will leave the EU in March 2019, the country has said it would like to participate in the new program in return for a membership fee. Details are yet to be negotiated.

More broadly, Horizon Europe envisions new rules for international cooperation that would allow geographically distant third parties with which the EU has free-trade agreements, such as Japan, Canada, and South Africa, to enter into program-specific agreements on a pay-as-you-go basis. EU Commissioner Moedas has denied the new rules were proposed as a result of Brexit.

The proposed spending plan for Horizon Europe must still be approved by the European Parliament and member states. The commission is pushing for swift agreement on the budget, but like other EU decisions, the proposal will undergo rounds of scrutiny before approval.


Since the budget’s unveiling last month, several university groups issued a joint statement arguing that the proposal does not allocate enough money for basic research. They would like the European Council and Parliament to increase Horizon Europe’s budget to €160 billion. The two members of Parliament charged with steering the plan through negotiations also say the total spending should be at least €120 billion, Science|Business reported.

Meanwhile, central and eastern European countries that are EU members will continue to pressure EU officials to resolve a funding divide within the region. Under Horizon 2020, most of the funding went to research institutes and businesses in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

Paula Dupraz-Dobias is a freelance writer based in Switzerland.


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