With member countries of the European Union (EU) currently sharply divided over funding for future programmes of the European Commission (EC), there is naturally some concern about the potential implications for research projects, including those being carried out jointly with researchers in Africa.
There was therefore some relief when EC official Carlos Oliveira told the 2012 Africa-EU Cooperation Forum on ICT, being held in Lisbon, Portugal, that even if some adjustments are needed to plans that have already been proposed for future funding, “the essence of the proposals remain valid”.
Oliveira, a policy officer with the commission’s directorate general for communications networks, content and technologies (DG CONNECT), referred in particular to the multi-year Horizon 2020 programme, planned for the period 2014-2018, a period covered by the current negotiations.
This is due to succeed the current Framework 7 programme – the main channel for funding research projects, including those involving developing countries – which ends next year.
While the commission has proposed total funding for Horizon 2020 of €80 billion, some of the EU members states seeking major reductions in the overall budget are suggesting that this should be cut to €60 billion (in contrast, the European Parliament, has suggested a much higher budget, of around €100 billion).
Oliveira said that the general feeling in Brussels is that there is likely to be some fine-tuning in the Horizon 2020 programme. And that, at the end of the day, the current expectation is that “there may be a budget reduction of five to ten per cent”.
“But this does not put in doubt the fundamental principles of the proposed programme,” he said, referring to a general feeling that, even in times of economic crisis, spending on research and innovation represents a sound investment in the future.
In particular, the Horizon 2020 programme is likely to maintain a strong focus on core ICT activities, he said. Anticipated to account for 20% of the total budget, this includes research on the future of the internet, next generation computing, content technologies and information management, advanced interfaces and key enabling technologies (such as nanotechnology).
A further €4 billion is being allocated to the use ICT in tackling societal challenges such as health, energy, transport, and climate action.
“International cooperation will remain a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020,” Oliveira reassured his audience.
“We want to maximise the impact of this cooperation,” he said, adding that the commission is currently developing a detailed strategy for international cooperation in ICT, looking in particularly at ways of developing partnerships with other countries are mutually beneficial.
So, no back-tracking is anticipated in Brussels in this area, however difficult the task of arriving at a final budget turns out over the weeks ahead. Which was a relief to hear for many participating in the Lisbon meeting, whose future plans might otherwise be on the line.