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Proposed cuts to Europe’s research budget – why we’re fighting back

by Catherine Guinard | Analysis

18 May 2015

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Cancer research is a long game. The process of developing ideas, conducting experiments and analysing the results takes years. And translating these results into new tests or treatments for patients takes more time still.

Yet we know it’s time – and money – well spent. Research is at the heart of everything we do. And we know that research today will benefit cancer patients in the future.

We don’t receive any government funding for our research, but the Governments both here in the UK and in the European Union do provide money that is vital for the UK to be one of the best places in the world to conduct cancer research. So it’s important to protect that investment.

But potential cuts to how some research in the EU is funded threaten to undermine this – as we’ll explore below.

Putting progress at risk

Because research needs time, it requires funding that is both long-term and consistent. ‘Horizon 2020’ – the European Union’s €80million, seven year research programme – looked to answer both these demands when it was introduced in 2012.

It was a slice of the EU budget pie dedicated to boosting research combined with a plan of how this money would be spent. Europe’s health research community – including Cancer Research UK – welcomed the initiative, which aimed to support world-class science, encourage innovation and make it easier for the public and private sectors to work together to carry out innovative research.

Back in late 2014, the European Commission – the EU body that initiates new laws – tabled a new growth and jobs plan called the European Fund for Strategic Investment or ‘EFSI’. The plan would reduce the Horizon 2020 budget by €2.7 billion – which equates to 3.5 per cent of the whole programme. A huge threat to science funding. Although the European Commission said that it intended for the money cut from the budget to be channelled back into research, there is no formal obligation for this to happen.

By taking money from Horizon 2020, the EFSI presents a real danger that less EU funding will be available for research – putting at risk the very life blood of Europe’s progress on research, and health. And we think that’s a huge concern.

Defending the interests of patients

In recent months, Europe’s research community – including Cancer Research UK – has joined forces to demand that Horizon 2020 be left untouched, allowing the programme to deliver what it set out to achieve.

And we’re making progress. The European Parliament, which was invited to comment on the Commission’s proposal, has already shown it’s on the side of public health by opposing cuts to Horizon 2020, and we’re asking them to be bold and defend this position as crucial talks continue.

But we have a long way to go. All three EU institutions – the European Commission, European Parliament and Council of Ministers – are working together to carve out a final text. We’re working with all three institutions to make sure that they defend the interests of cancer patients across Europe by guarding the Horizon 2020 budget – and to send a clear signal that research budgets are a non-negotiable part of the fight against cancer.

Catherine Castledine is a public affairs managing at Cancer Research UK

  • Read our statement on the proposals here