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EU Council reaches accord on MFF and recovery plan: a missed opportunity for education and research

27 July 2020

July has been a crucial month for EU policy making and the future of higher education and research. On 21 July, after four days and four nights of complex discussions, EU leaders finally reached a historic accord on a € 1.824 billion package, including both the next EU seven-year budget – the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – and the recovery plan to tackle the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis – Next Generation EU.

While the overall size and unprecedented nature of the package is very good news for the EU, it is less so for European higher education and research, with Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ both being affected by significant budget cuts. The two programmes are now being allocated, respectively, only € 80.9 billion and € 21.2 billion (that is, a € 13.5 billion and €3.4 billion cut compared to what was proposed by the European Commission in May 2020). Such cuts would adversely affect the capacity of the programmes to fully reach their objectives.

The Coimbra Group’s repeated concerns  have turned into an extreme disappointment with what appears as a missed opportunity. The association finds it shocking that, in the face of the evidence of the value of research and education in bringing solutions to global challenges such as the one we are currently experiencing, EU leaders – now of all times –  failed to acknowledge this by opting for a short-sighted approach to Europe’s development.

In the last months, the Coimbra Group has been relentlessly advocating for increased investment in Knowledge and for an ambitious budget plan which includes both Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programmes in the pool of recovery instruments. Ahead of the EU Council summit, the Coimbra Group and fourteen other European associations of universities representing over 800 universities in Europe, had joined forces and called on European leaders to step up investment in excellent, cross-border research, education and innovation, both in the Multiannual Financial Framework from 2021 to 2027 and Next Generation EU (see Coimbra Group press release).

“It is highly regrettable that, once again, support to Knowledge is not a priority although the recent COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that research, innovation and education are instrumental in finding solutions and providing resilience to our society” said Coimbra Group Executive Board Chair, Prof. Ludovic Thilly, in the wake of the EU Council Summit – “The proposed budgets to Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ are well below the proposals from university associations and the European Parliament. We therefore urge the European Parliament President and the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to put pressure on the EU Council, the President of the European Council and the EU leaders to revise their position. Support to Knowledge is key for Youth & Europe’s future!”.

On a positive note, at its extraordinary plenary session held on 23 July, the European Parliament expressed disagreement with the cuts made to flagship, future-oriented EU programmes for climate protection, digital transition, health, youth, culture, research and border management and stated that MEPs are prepared to withhold their consent for the MFF “until a satisfactory agreement is reached in the upcoming negotiations between Parliament and the Council, preferably by the end of October at the latest for a smooth start of the EU programmes from 2021.” (see European Parliament’s press release).

The Coimbra Group applauds the European Parliament’s stance on this issue and will continue to plead for increased financial support for education, research and innovation.
For further details about the latest Coimbra Group’s policy statements and campaigns related to the MFF and the recovery plan:

“#EUInvestinKnowledge” campaign (14 July 2020)

Joint statement from Coimbra Group Rectors’ Advisory Group and Executive Board on the next European Multiannual Financial Framework and the recovery instrument “Next Generation EU” (16 June 2020)

“Seize our common future” campaign (24 July 2019)