‘No need for alarm’ over funding from Brussels

November 29, 2012

David Dickson

David Dickson
Correspondent, SciDev.Net

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.

EU flag (Flickr/European Parliament)

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.

This blog post is part of our 2012 Africa-EU Cooperation Forum on ICT blog, which takes place 28-29 November 2012, in Lisbon, Portugal. To read news and analysis on ICTs please visit our website.

Self help for the ambitious development professional

October 17, 2012

Nick Ishmael Perkins
Director, SciDev.Net

You can’t fault the European Commission for ambition.

From the grandly titled ‘opening ceremony’ to the parade of heads of state – 7 on the first day it was clear this was a gathering that intends to make an impact. But then the business of poverty reduction should be approached with a certain boldness.

EC President Barroso in his opening remarks reminded us that the EU is the largest contributor to overseas development aid – committing over half of the global total annually – and it plans to get bigger. By 2014 they are hoping for a budget of 100 billion euro over 6 years. I suppose if they can’t think big then who can?

And big thinking was what we expected. The conference set itself a tantalising and timely central question – how do we make economic growth sustainable and inclusive? This goes well beyond aid and gets to the heart of public policy in rich and poor countries alike. The latest edition of The Economist features a similar question on it’s cover.

However there were three things which keep occurring to me on the first day which will need to be resolved if we are to achieve a sustainable answer to this central question:

  • the question is not new. As a number of panelists in the high level panel on resilience and partnerships acknowledged, this is part of a set of questions 30 years in the asking. There was no consensus on why it has taken so long to resolve. And, more importantly, a straw poll suggests that half those in that session remain unconvinced things are about to change.
  • there is no evident concentration of effort. The full EDD programme packs over 40 sessions in its 2 days, many of them featuring fascinating work. However, it is not at all clear they are equally concerned with the central question. Often it feels they are, understandably, flying the flag of their programmes and partnerships. Not perhaps the best example of joined up development thinking.
  • resilience is a proxy. One theme that constantly resurfaced in the sessions I attended was resilience and it’s role in the face of climate and financial crises. But as most self-help gurus would tell you, it’s your view of life, as much as any capital social or otherwise, which determines your resilience. In this regard, questions of what interventions build resilience obscures to some extent the question of what is our vision of development. Admittedly this latter question is where the conference agenda wants to get to but not where the actual discussion is at.

But then the self-help gurus will also say that when a question is too big or complex we tend to focus on easier to manage queries and solutions.

I thought of this particular observation as I asked myself another potentially complex question  where are the scientists?

This post is part of our blog on European Development Days (EDD12), which takes place 16 and 17 October 2012, in Brussels, Belgium.

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