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16th Feb 2019

EU science chief wants more from Juncker fund

  • Science commissioner Moedas (r) meeting researchers at the University of Coimbra (Photo: European Commission)

A larger share of projects funded through the EU's flagship investment programme should be devoted to research, development and innovation, EU commissioner Carlos Moedas told journalists on Monday (25 January).

In 2015, the European Investment Bank (EIB) earmarked 42 projects for funding through the so-called Juncker fund, a €315 billion initiative to spur growth in the EU spearheaded by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

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Of those 42, five fell in the category research, development and innovation. Four have so far been signed and were given €325 million from the EIB.

“Am I satisfied? Not yet, I think that we can do much better,” said Moedas, commissioner in charge of research, science, and innovation.

But he added that the €325 million was expected to generate additional funding on the private market of around €2 billion.

"Is it good to have already €2 billion of value of projects that are related to research and innovation? Fantastic," he said.

"Is it our objective to have much more? Yes, of course and we will try to convince countries that they should have more projects related to research and innovation, because that's what EFSI was supposed to be about," referring to the Juncker fund by its formal title, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

Part of the EU's contribution to the Juncker fund was taken from Horizon 2020, the bloc's research and development grant programme.

But according to Moedas, who oversees Horizon 2020, the fund “is already giving money back”.

He noted that the Juncker fund is also contributing €750 million to an innovation fund called InnovFin.

“Probably without EFSI contributions, InnovFin would have stayed around €200 million, €300 million, not 700," said Moedas.

"We will have a lot of projects that will be research and innovation-related."

Gap between 'old' and 'new'

The centre-right Portuguese commissioner also presented the results of Horizon 2020's predecessor programme, the so-called 7th Framework Programme (FP7) of research funding.

The FP7 programme awarded €45.3 billion to research projects from 2007 to 2013.

The vast majority of that money went to countries that have been a member of the EU since before 2004.

The largest recipients were Germany (€7.2 billion), UK (€7 billion), France (€5.2 billion) and Italy (€3.6 billion).

The 13 newest member states together received around €1.9 billion, which is only slightly more than what Belgium received on its own.

But Moedas noted that when FP7 funding was calculated as a proportion of the amount each state had invested, the 13 newer members "received on average 30 percent more FP7 funding than other member states".

He also said that the science grants are not meant as a tool to close the gap between old and new member states, a process he termed "convergence".

"I think Horizon 2020 can do a share of the work, but cannot be the work of getting countries up the ladder, that's the mission of the structural funds in Europe," he said.

“More than 70 percent of the European Union budget is allocated to structural funds and the agricultural policies, and only eight percent is allocated to science.

"If you compare the funds that are allocated to convergence – the structural funds – I think that Europe has done an amazing job of getting countries up that convergence machine.

“The job of the programme is really to get Europe to the top of the chart in terms of research. The core business of Horizon 2020 is not the same as the core business of the structural funds.”

He also noted that breaking down the subsidies by country does not say much about the individual scientists benefiting from them.

"If you go to the UK and you look at the researchers that are there, a lot of them come also from those countries that [became EU members] in 2004," he said.

"Some of the countries have top-notch institutions, but they have European researchers that come from all over. It's always funny that in Europe we still think about individual countries."

Scientific advice

When Moedas was asked what he hoped his legacy as a commissioner would be, he mentioned two things. One was the European Innovation Council, a new pan-European institute for innovation.

The other was the so-called scientific advisory mechanism, a team of science advisers to the European Commission.

The set-up of the advisory body was a bit rocky. The previous Barroso commission's Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) had said she was kept in limbo about the future of her position.

But Moedas rejected the suggestion that the CSA post had been scrapped.

"No, no, no. [The chief scientific adviser] was multiplied by seven. Now I have seven chief scientific advisers."

Moedas said he hoped that after his term, politicians would be “taking decisions more based more on scientific evidence”.

He said other commissioners in need of scientific advice would be invited to attend meetings with the advisers.

The first formal meeting of the group is Friday (29 January) and will have digital commissioner Andrus Ansip attending.

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