Europe’s new commissioner for research, science and innovation has used his first trip to the UK to reassure researchers that trimming the budget of the EU’s flagship research and innovation programme will be good for science.
Carlos Moedas argued that diverting €2.7 billion (£2 billion) earmarked for Horizon 2020 into a strategic investment fund will increase the money’s “firepower”.
At a briefing at the European Commission Office in London on 23 March, he said that people needed to open their minds to the project.
On the same day, Mr Moedas also met the president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, to explain that the €315 billion European Fund for Strategic Investments was of “extreme importance” for science, innovation and the knowledge economy.
Sir Paul is one of 28 Nobel laureates who wrote to the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, earlier this month to express their dismay about proposals to cut support for Horizon 2020 in order to contribute to the fund, which is designed to boost public and private investment.
Mr Moedas, who took office in November 2014, said that his message for Sir Paul was that the Commission would do more for science and innovation with the investment plan, not less. “Those €2.7 billion will go to a fund that has a higher multiplier,” he said, because the fund will be able to leverage loans and private-sector finance to increase overall investment in science.
“The Junker plan will be a way of increasing the firepower of Horizon 2020,” the commissioner said.
The strategic investment fund includes public and private finance and loans that will target high-risk, high-reward projects close to market. About €200 million of the money will come from a 1.5 per cent cut to the budget of the European Research Council, which supports fundamental or blue-sky research.
The Nobel laureates are not alone in opposing Mr Juncker’s plan. Universities UK, the League of European Research Universities and Science Europe have all spoken out against the proposals in recent months.
Mr Moedas insisted that the strategic investment fund was “complementary” to Horizon 2020, and that it was up to the Commission to communicate how the changes will affect science and innovation funding.
“People react to change,” he said. “I am trying to communicate as best as I can because I think it is genuinely a good thing for science and innovation.”
He explained that there was not enough private investment in research and development in Europe. “We have to create the incentives for that to happen,” he said.
Mr Moedas also outlined the proposal he is developing for a new mechanism for science advice in the Commission. Its first chief scientific adviser, Anne Glover, recently stepped down, and said Mr Juncker would not be replacing her.
The commissioner added that he had discussed science advice with Sir Paul as part of their meeting, but he could not reveal any details until he had presented the proposal to the president.