Relief and satisfaction as EU programmes greenlighted to start next year

14 December 2020

After the longest negotiations ever on the seven-year EU budget, member states managed to find a compromise at the European summit on 10 December to overcome the veto of Hungary and Poland. The two countries had contested the mechanism linking the disbursement of EU funds to the respect of the rule of law, stalling the budget’s final approval.

The European Parliament voted in favour in a plenary session on 14-18 December, allowing the long-term budget to be effective as of January. The 2021 annual EU budget should also be approved in time. Programmes such as Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ will be likely ready and operational in early 2021. This is good news for the university community, as a delayed start of these key programmes was a concrete possibility evoked over recent weeks.

In parallel to the Multiannual Financial Framework negotiations, the Council and the European Parliament also reached an agreement specifically on Horizon Europe on 11 December. The discussion focused on the allocation of the additional four billion euros secured a month ago as part of the overall long-term budget deal. Strong and continued advocacy by EUA and partners, representing the scientific community, combined with commitment by the European Parliament, helped re-balance Horizon Europe funding across its different pillars. The European Research Council, the prestigious EU flagship, received one billion euros from the top-up. Funding for Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions and research infrastructures was also reinforced. Since the additional funding channelled from the recovery plan mostly addressed collaborative research (pillar II) and innovation (pillar III), this decision maintains the overall balance of the programme and reverts part of the cuts made earlier to the Horizon Europe proposal. The programme now stands at 84,9 billion euros (2018 prices; the equivalent in current prices is 95,5 billion euros).

To offer a near-complete package, last week also saw decision makers agree on Erasmus+. As announced in November, Erasmus+ will allow the EU to invest 23,4 billion euros (2018 prices) in the field, along with culture and sports, compared to 21,2 billion agreed in July. The agreement confirms that 83% of the much-expanded budget of the programme will go to education and training. EUA understands that 34,6% of this budget will be allocated to higher education mobility and collaboration. The higher education sector will also receive an additional budget for a number of centrally managed activities, including the European Universities Initiative, which could receive 1,1 billion euros in current prices. Common threads of the new programme are inclusiveness, greening and digitalisation. The final Erasmus+ regulation is foreseen for the end of January or early February 2021. EUA understands that it will include a “retroactive clause” that would enable the new programme to start as of 1 January 2021.

Synergies are in the spotlight in the new funding programmes, with notably enhanced possibilities of using the so-called Seal of Excellence both for Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ to support excellent proposals that cannot be selected due to lack of funding.

EUA has been engaged in this process since the mid-term review of the current Multiannual Financial Framework and programmes started in 2016-2017. The Association has campaigned for greater visibility of the importance of EU investment in research, education and innovation, and has particularly advocated for a more ambitious commitment to fundamental research.

EUA wishes to thank its members for their efforts, as well as the European Parliament and Commission for the continued work, and the EU Council presidencies that have led the negotiation to its conclusion. EUA remains committed, with the support of its member university associations, to making the case for investment in excellent and collaborative research and higher education.

EUA’s latest briefing on the Multiannual Financial Framework and recovery plan is available to members upon request (


Updated on 17 December 2020.

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