The Regulation proposing a European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), also known as the “Juncker Plan”, aimed to mobilise at least € 315 billion in an investment plan to get Europe growing again. The EFSI had immediately received criticism as the proposal included taking €2.7 billion from Horizon 2020, heavily impacting basic research and more generally, innovation in the EU.
The result of the trialogue received a mixed response. The European Parliament had hoped to protect the Horizon 2020 and Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) budgets, with the Commission and the Council of the European Union both recommending cutting these mechanisms. While this was not nearly as successful as the Parliament hoped, the position of the political groups is that still made important negotiations.
However, though the consolidated text is not available, reports indicate that 2.2 billion Euros will be committed from the Horizon 2020 research budget. This is a reduction of 500 million Euros from the original commitment with 500 million Euros also being saved from CEF. The trialogue negotiations have protected a total of 1 billion Euros from Horizon 2020 and CEF which means that 1 billion will be found in the margins of the EU budget to compensate.
The most favourable result for the European Parliament is that the annual budgetary procedure is now central to the financing of the EFSI rather than an irrevocable budgetary commitment which the Commission and Council had originally insisted upon. This means that all political groups have committed to working each year in the Budget Committee to minimize the actual money withdrawn from Horizon 2020. It can be therefore presumed that each year, MEPs will work to find budgetary flexibilities to reduce the money that they commit from Horizon 2020.
Also on a positive note, the 500 million saved in Horizon 2020 commitments means that the European Research Council budget and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, which form the ‘Spreading Excellence and Widening’ pillar of Horizon 2020, have been protected. This was seen as a bottom line in negotiations and to this extent, negotiators will be pleased to have protected some basic research grants.
MEPs will continue to work on the 2016 budget to see how they can reduce the impact on research. Furthermore, the Commission will now be under pressure to back up its statements that EFSI funds would be able to enhance the European research and innovation framework. Finance Ministers are now expected to approve the Regulation at the Economic and Financial Affairs Council on 19 June 2015 and the European Parliament plenary vote on the Regulation will take place on the 24 June so that the EFSI will be operational by September.