Europe Plans 45% Boost To Science Investments, Funded By Slashing Farming Subsidies

Screw austerity: Science spending in the European Union is about to get a huge boost, at the expense of farming subsidies. The move is an acknowledgment that only by spending money on innovation and future tech can income growth be assured.

NASA's James Webb Space telescope


Screw austerity: The E.U.’s science spending, which is running at about US$79 billion for the current 2007-2013 period, is getting a boost to $114 billion for 2014-2020. The E.U.’s proposal recognizes that only by spending money on innovation and future tech can income growth be assured. Apart from this 45%+ boost in science cash, the rest of the E.U.’s roughly trillion-dollar budget remains flat.

The proposal still awaits approval by the E.U.’s parliament and member states, but just getting this far is a milestone. The next phase is to forge spending into the next generation of the E.U.’s Framework Programme, which is its main research spending entity, to produce a plan called Horizon 2020. The spending shift has been championed by E.U. research commissioner Márie Geoghan-Quinn, and means that the share of the E.U. budget portioned out for scientific research will eventually double from its 4.5% figure in 2007 to 9% in 2020.

How will Europe pay for it? This is actually the biggest trick being pulled off: More than €4.5 billion would be transferred from the E.U.’s farm subsidies program, the Common Agricultural Policy. This is the enormous pile of cash paid by E.U. authorities to farmers each year to keep them in business, to keep food products rolling off the production line, and to keep fields fallow–as well as to diversify their businesses. Depending on where your political feelings lie, the CAP is either a majestic insurance policy that ties nations together and ensures E.U. autonomy in food produce, or a monstrous and embarrassing carbuncle that sees billions of euros wasted on an industry that should evolve. Whichever way you look at it, the CAP eats up so much of the E.U.’s funds that even this smallish redistribution of cash is a revelation.

The new science money will be spent on all sorts of initiatives, big and small. One of the first areas gives research priorities for projects on “healthy aging.” One previous beneficiary that won’t see additional cash, however, is the impressive ITER European fusion reaction experiments–destined to perhaps replace traditional nuclear power as an infinitely more sustainable and non-polluting alternative–which will now have to earn extra cash from member states individually.

Given that a report this week has suggested that European technology startups still see the best location to begin business as Silicon Valley, rather than locally, this news couldn’t have had better timing. And though Obama has been criticized for not necessarily delivering on his science-centric promises, perhaps the E.U. can achieve more reliable results.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.


[Image: Flickr user Marshall Space Flight Center]

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