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Proposed cuts to Horizon 2020 are short-sighted

Invest on sustaining the intellectual bridges that Europe has painstakingly put in place, says CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer


When the latest incarnation of Europe’s framework programme for science funding, Horizon 2020, was announced, it was to great acclaim. Horizon 2020 builds on the already considerable success of its forerunners, which have made international research at the European level a reality and have contributed greatly to European competitiveness on the world stage.

We at CERN have benefited considerably, through projects that have enabled us to build on CERN’s core competencies to develop science at the grass-roots level across the continent. Horizon 2020 is more ambitious and more streamlined than its predecessors, and, funded at the level of €70 billion over seven years, it is potentially transformative. All of which makes the Commission’s plan to raid the Horizon 2020 budget to the tune of €2.7 billion rather incomprehensible.

Keen to stimulate Europe’s economies, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed a €21 billion investment plan to cover everything from transport infrastructure to science and education, and this is where Horizon 2020’s €2.7 billion is earmarked to go. It’s a substantial sum by any measure, but set against Europe’s economy, valued at €12 trillion in 2014, it is a drop in the ocean. If the Commission really wants to support European competitiveness, then keeping Horizon 2020 funding intact should, in my opinion, be top of its priority list. However, this does not seem to be the case. Subject to ratification by the European Parliament, the decision has been taken, and it is now up to the scientific community to ensure that the potential negative impact on science is kept to a minimum.

Over the years, the EU’s framework programmes have built many bridges between the scientific communities of Europe. If I had the opportunity to speak to Mr Juncker today, my advice would be not to spend the money on physical bridges. Invest instead on sustaining the intellectual bridges that Europe has painstakingly put in place over the years through the framework programmes. That is the way to European cohesion, competitiveness and prosperity.