Europe’s contributions to research – an overview

By Mathilde Bonneau | 12 April 2013

To quote this document: Mathilde Bonneau, “Europe’s contributions to research – an overview”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 12 April 2013,, displayed on 08 December 2022

The European Union’s growth strategy for the period 2010-2020, known as Europe 2020, aims to make the EU ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive’ by improving skills and education, modernising industry, and also, by boosting research and innovation. Its financial instruments, the FP7 (2007-2013) and Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) contribute to this agenda, as does its funding to projects with an international dimension such as the CERN and Project ITER.

The European Union’s research agenda

'Horizon 2020' implements one of Europe 2020’s flagship initiatives: Innovation Union. Placed at the heart of the EU’s growth strategy, this initiative aims to improve the conditions and access to finance for Research and Development (R&D) in the EU, in order to ensure that innovative ideas are turned into products and services that create jobs and economic growth. The focus is therefore on the tangible results of R&D to make the EU more competitive.

The three main priorities consist in performing science, competitive industries and a better society. Under the first, the programme will fund a variety of research areas. For instance, on future and emerging technologies (FET), the plan would provide training and career development through the Marie Curie actions and ensure that the EU has world-class research infrastructures. The second section will enhance the EU leadership in key enabling and industrial technologies (ICT, nanotechnologies, biotechnology etc.) and provide support for innovation in SMEs. The final theme will focus on meeting societal challenges such as food security, energy efficiency, climate action or smart transport, through channelling new research opportunities.

To support these lofty objectives, the Commission proposed a budget of €80 billion for the period 2014-2020. However, this target is jeopardised by ongoing negotiations in the Council and the European Parliament on the next multi-annual financial framework (MFF). Of the EU’s total budget of €908 billion, €125 billion is dedicated to the section on growth and competitiveness, under which falls 'Horizon 2020'. The Council decided to allocate a little amount, under €71 billion of this sum, to 'Horizon 2020'; and while this represents a significant increase on FP7’s €55 billion, the sum still falls short of the Commission’s proposed €80 billion. The European Parliament’s rejection of the proposed MFF in March 2013 means that this allocation is still up for grabs.

However, 'Horizon 2020'’s budget does not seem to include funding for the EU’s other R&D projects such as the global positioning system Galileo or the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). The CEF proposes to use €50 billion to boost transport (€31.7 billion), energy (€9.1 billion) and digital networks (€9.2 billion). Nonetheless, the European Council has made slashes in these figures and it has agreed to a mere €23 billion for transport, €5.6 billion for energy and just €1 billion for digital services.

International cooperation

International cooperation is an important aspect of the EU’s research agenda. Projects funded by FP7 include international partners from across the world. For instance FP7 funds projects BEMO-COFRA on distributive networks and EUBrazilOpenBio on open data and cloud computing, include Brazilian partners. 'Horizon 2020' will also be open to international participation and targeted actions with key partner countries – like Brazil – will be EU’s strategic priorities.

The EU’s contribution to international research and development is not limited to allowing international partners to receive funding under EU initiatives. The Union also contributes to international projects such as the Project ITER or the CERN.

Project ITER – an international project with EU participation

Project ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) began in 1985 as a collaboration on nuclear fusion between the Soviet Union (now Russia), the European Union (through EURATOM), Japan and the USA. After discussions at the Geneva superpower summit in 1985, General Secretary Gorbachev suggested to the American President Reagan an international project to develop fusion energy for peaceful purposes. The project was joined in 2005 by South Korea, India and China.

The aim was to develop a new, cleaner and sustainable source of energy – to make the transition from experimental studies of plasma physics to full-scale electricity-producing fusion power plants. Conceptual design and engineering phases led to an acceptable design for a nuclear fusion reactor and in 2007, construction began in Southern France. The first plasma is expected to be produced in 2020. Project DEMO will follow Project ITER – its aim is to build a commercial fusion power plant, to bring fusion energy to the commercial market.

The negotiations that led to ITER’s French location entailed a compromise between the EU and Japan – Japan was promised 20% of the research staff at the French location as well as the head of ITER’s administrative body. In addition, another research facility will be built in Japan, to which the EU will contribute about 50% of the costs. The EU, as host for the ITER complex in France, is contributing to 45% of the total costs, while the other parties contribute to about 9% each. The EU’s budget for ITER is separate from 'Horizon 2020' or other projects, with €2.7 billion earmarked specifically for the fusion plant.

CERN – a European project with an international dimension

The CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) was born in 1953, more or less at the same time as the European Union. One of Europe’s first joint ventures, CERN can not only boast a number of scientific successes, but it can also claim to be a very good example of European and International cooperation.

The Convention establishing CERN was signed by 12 European countries, namely Belgium, Denmark, France, (West) Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and former Yugoslavia (which left in 1961). Its membership has since expanded to 20 members – 18 of which are European Union member-states – and 7 observers, including the EU, the United-States, Russia and Japan. Romania is a candidate for membership, and Israel, Cyprus and Serbia are associate members in the pre-stage to membership. In addition, over 30 countries and 600 institutions across the world are currently involved in CERN programmes. American physicists have been collaborating in a wide-range to CERN experiments for over 30 years and contacts with Russian scientists began during the Cold War in 1964.

The European Union was granted an observer status in 1985. The CERN has been involved since the late 1990s in the EU’s Research Framework Programmes, the latest being FP6 (2002-2006) and FP7 (2007-2013), in three main domains: accelerator and detector research and development, Grid infrastructure development and various Marie-Curie host actions to train young scientists and engineers. The EU and CERN will continue this collaboration within the framework of 'Horizon 2020'.

As an inter-governmental organisation, CERN is funded with contributions from its members, associate members and candidates for membership. Based in the Northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco-Swiss border, it spends much of its budget on building machines and it only partially contributes to the costs of the experiments. Its work has gone beyond the study of the atomic nucleus into higher-energy physics, which is concerned mainly with the study of particles and their interactions. Birthplace of the Internet, as it is considered that the World Wide Web began with a CERN project called ENQUIRE, it is perhaps most famous for its Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 27 km tunnel located 100 meters underground used to collide protons, and its work on the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson, whose discovery was tentatively confirmed in March 2013 by CERN after a 45 year hunt. This significant finding validates years of theorising on how the universe works.

Funding for experiments and operations comes from members, associate members, observers and non-members collaborating on a given project. As such, EU member-states do not only contribute to the CERN budget through the EU’s collaboration, but also individually through their direct membership. In 2012, France, the UK and Germany were the largest contributors, contributing appreciatively to 15.5%, 13.5% and 20% of the total budget. Most member-states contribute on average to 1-4%. The EU, for its part, contributed about to €15 million, a 2% increase from 2011 as a result of approval of new proposals – including COFUND through which the EU co-funds Marie-Curie fellows or research training programmes.


From world-famous scientists, research such as CERN to targeted actions through FP7 and 'Horizon 2020', Europe as a whole contributes to research and development in a variety of ways and configurations. However, the recent budgetary talks in member-States and the European Union jeopardise the scale of these contributions and funding (which are already too low) – without which European researchers will be unable to meet the objectives Europe has set to itself.

The EU and its member-States have failed to meet the 3% of GDP target for investment in R&D; first set by the Lisbon Strategy (2000-2010), it was extended to the Europe 2020 Strategy. Only Austria, Finland and Sweden exceed this target by investing 3.5-4% GDP in R&D. Europe needs to give the means for its scientific community, without which it risks lagging behind other nations where innovation and research are nurtured and valued.

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Source photo: Science Center Nemo Amsterdam 3D, flickr