Frugal forecast for ERC prompts budget fears

May 5, 2006

The European Research Council will start life next year with annual funding of just fi300 million (£209 million). Although draft figures indicate this should rise to €1.8 billion a year by 2013, the parsimonious launch will inevitably disappoint some researchers.

Brussels officials say that their hands have been tied by the 2007-13 budget agreed with European Union member states and the European Parliament.

Over time, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) will command twice as much money as FP6. Initially, however, there will be a 5-10 per cent boost to EU research spending, rising to a 75 per cent boost by 2013. Inevitably, these initial budgetary constraints will hit the ERC.

"The figures just don't add up," said Antonia Mochan, the Commission research spokeswoman. She said Brussels had to honour FP6 funding commitments and international projects, such as the Iter nuclear fusion plant, so "we can't just minor everything down" to suit a smaller initial budget.

Despite concerns, she said: "We are confident that the ERC will launch, will be successful and become very important. We are really committed to it." Over the next seven years, it would command an average annual budget of €1 billion - "a significant amount of money", she said.

Peter Cotgreave, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK, warned that the Commission must manage initial demand for ERC grants carefully. "If they go around voicing grand ambitions, they will be overwhelmed with applications and get off to a chronically bad start."

A European University Association spokesman also recognised that the ERC might face initial difficulties operating a large budget, but said: "We reiterate that the ERC needs a substantial budget over the lifetime of FP7 - as near to the Commission's originally proposed €10 billion as possible."

Ms Mochan said that FP7 money would not set up or run the widely panned European Institute of Technology, although it could bid for research money.

The draft budgets will be confirmed by the Commission in late May, coinciding with a Council of Ministers vote on the new framework programme.

The European Parliament is expected to vote in June and all discussions are to be completed in October, two months before the FP7 launch.

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