The Daily Express complains that the latest EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation work programme includes £112 million for electric cars. Electric cars can make an important contribution to cutting air pollution, which is estimated to cause 400 000 premature deaths in Europe every year.
So asserting that investing money in this area is “splurging members’ cash on waste” is, to put it mildly, ill-informed.
The Express compares funding for high-tech industrial research with “just £41m spent researching terrorism” and uses this to suggest to readers that the EU is somehow neglecting to take action on terrorism. This is a false comparison and a cynical and misleading conclusion to draw from it.
First, this sum is only the amount dedicated specifically to research into “fighting and preventing organised crime and tackling terrorist ideas and beliefs”. Much other research within the work programme will also provide benefits in terms of preventing terrorism and dealing with its effects.
For example, border management, digital security (which the Express itself mentions), critical infrastructure protection, forensics, crisis response, and the treatment of severe injuries are all covered in other parts of the work programme.
What is more, tackling terrorism depends on a vast and complex web of interacting elements, ranging from anti-radicalisation measures in schools to disrupting terrorist finance to clamping down on arms trafficking. The EU has acted extensively in all these areas and is taking further action, as detailed here.
It follows that money for scientific and social research is only a relatively small part of the EU’s overall financial investment in preventing terrorism and apprehending those responsible for it.
Other funding goes into operational capacity. For example, Europol, the EU’s enforcement agency against terrorism and international crime has an annual budget of € 100m.
That said, the main legal and budgetary powers necessary to fight terrorism rest with the Member States, with the EU’s mandate –given to it by Member States in the EU Treaties – limited to areas where it can provide added value to national level efforts. The Express would presumably not want to change that situation.
EU-funded research and innovation is helping to keep European industries at the cutting edge, to find new treatments for killer diseases – with over €2bn (£1.7bn) invested in cancer research since 2007 – and to limit the effects of climate change while reducing dependence on imported energy.
That is why Member States and the European Parliament agreed to increase to about €77 bn (£64bn) – nearly 40% up – overall funding for the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme in the EU’s 2014-2020 budget, which saw freezes and cuts in many other policy areas.
For example, an independent report published on 26 July found that over 70% of European Research Council (ERC) projects have made scientific breakthroughs or major advances. The ERC oversees the part of Horizon 2020 that funds high-risk/high-gain projects by star individual researchers who pull together their own teams.
The UK is a leading beneficiary of EU research and innovation funding.
By the end of May 2016 British organisations had been awarded about €2.2bn (£1.8bn) since Horizon 2020 began in 2014. The UK was also among the biggest beneficiaries of the EU’s earlier “Framework Programmes,” receiving over €7bn (£5.8bn) between 2007-13 under “FP7”. This amounted to roughly 13% of the total funding available.
These figures include only money directly allocated to UK organisations. They are usually working in cross-border projects receiving overall a multiple of these amounts for work which ultimately aims to benefit the UK, Europe and often the world.
The ERC for its part has awarded about €2.4 billion (£2bn) to UK researchers since 2007.
Many UK scientists and innovators have made abundantly clear – for example Sir Paul Nurse, former President of the Royal Society – their concerns about the effect that the UK leaving the EU could have on not only this funding but in the cross-border networking that underpins most of Horizon 2020.