Research without a budget, Europe without a future

In the special edition of Proton, published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of CERN in September 2004, we emphasized the role of CERN as a pioneer and model for other European research institutions and underlined the need to coordinate European science policy to create synergies between the various laboratories. European Union (EU) countries, recognizing the importance of pooling their resources in basic research, created the European Research Area as a European objective included in the EU’s constitutional Treaty signed in Lisbon in 2000 and set up the European Research Council (ERC)1 in 2007, with an initial budget of 7.5 billion euros for the period 2007 − 2013.

Budget discussions are on-going at the EU Headquarters in Brussels to agree on the EU’s global budget for the coming seven-year period 2014 − 2020. Given the austerity measures imposed in their national budgets, there is a strong pressure from several EU governments to also drastically reduce the global EU budget. A fierce competition between the various sectors that share this budget is to be feared, there is a real possibility that the research budget will be cut more severely than the other sectors (12 % has been mentioned). Therefore users and employees of European research institutes, all together, must make our voice heard.

At CERN we know all about budget cuts…

Crisis situations, where research budgets are under threat, are nothing new to us. Remember, in 1994, CERN Council decided to decrease the Organization’s budget by almost 10 %. It was at the time of the LHC approval, and the Staff Association indicated clearly that we could not agree with the unrealistic budgetary conditions that were imposed upon CERN and a petition was signed by many colleagues. On several further occasions we had to express our disagreement with budget cuts, and organized petitions signed by CERN staff, e.g., in March 2002 and 2007.

Demonstration, November 1994

Demonstration, March 2002

Staff meeting, March 2007


More recently, in June 2010, in the face of strong pressure by Member States in the Finance Committee to reduce the CERN medium-term plan (MTP) 2012 − 2015 and its budget, the President of the Staff Association sent a letter to all ministers in the twenty Member States concerned with CERN and its financing, as well as to all Finance Committee and Council delegates. This letter underlined the importance of defending basic research in Europe. On the 25th of August 2010, the day of a special Finance Committee meeting to discuss the MTP, we organized an assembly and invited those present to sign a petition “Research without a budget means a Europe without a future”. The local and international press attended and we also had the support of French and Swiss unions, as well as staff associations of other European scientific laboratories. ESA (European Space Agency), GSI (Institute for heavy ion research in Darmstadt, Germany), and ILL/ESRF (Laue-Langevin Institute and European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, Grenoble, France) sent a representative, while EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany), ESO (European Space Organization, Munich, Germany) and ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, Cadarache, France), sent letters of support. The assembly was widely covered in the written and audio-visual press, and a news feed was submitted to Eurovision, parts of which were used by several European news channels.

25 August 2010: Staff meeting and signing of a petition in support of basic research


The current European budget discussions

In their European Summit on the 22 − 23 November the European heads of government met to discuss the overall EU budget for the period 2014 − 2020 (Commission’s proposal: 1,033 billion euros). Taking into account the austerity measures they had to introduce at home, several countries considered this budget too high and even though the EU President, van Rompuy, at the Summit proposed a cut of 5.9 %2 on the total EU budget compared to the Commission's proposal, an agreement could not be reached. Discussions will continue in the New Year. Thus, reductions seem to have been imposed already on the spending profile foreseen for Horizon 2020 (80 billion euros for 2014 − 2020), in particular in the science research budget, which pays for facilities, postdoctoral training and young researchers who are setting up new labs. In this context, the heads of some of the world's leading research organizations have warned that cuts to the EU science budget will threaten the economic recovery of the region in that a shortfall in science funding would undermine basic training for young researchers and hit major infrastructure projects that are crucial for European science. Senior figures at Europe’s eight largest research organizations, including ESA and CERN, warn that "at a time when a return to growth is the most pressing policy priority across Europe, it is absolutely vital that investment in our scientific resources – both human and technical – is sustained."

Rolf Heuer, Director-General of CERN, in an interview with the Guardian added3 : "Science leads the way out of recession, so cutting science budgets is most certainly not the way forward. In times of recession, it is incumbent on the public sector to maintain the basic science base, ensuring that there is science for industry to apply. We keep hearing that Europe has a shortage of qualified scientists and engineers running to a deficit of tens of thousands of graduates each year. If that's the case in recession, think what the shortage will be when the economy picks up. Cutting science budgets not only damages science in the short term, it passes the wrong message to the young people who could be the scientists and engineers of the future. It would be an unqualified error."

In an initiative, on 15 November 2012 a delegation led by Nobel laureates met the three EU Presidents, urging them to secure the future budget for research and innovation Horizon 2020. They handed in an open letter, signed by 44 Nobel laureates and 6 Fields medallists, warning against the dramatic consequences of possible budget cuts in research and innovation. The delegation also drew attention to a petition “No cuts on research” in support of this cause (see below).

The open letter4, which was initiated by members of the European Research Council (ERC), underlines "it is essential that we support, and even more importantly, inspire in a pan-European way the extraordinary wealth of research and innovation potential that exists all over Europe" and warns that “in case of severe cuts to the EU research and innovation budget we risk losing a generation of talented scientists just when Europe needs them most."

Sign the petition

Building upon the open letter, young researchers from various scientific fields launched a petition5, coordinated by the Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE)6 and Young Academy of Europe (YAE)7, making an appeal to EU leaders not to make cuts to the research budget. Within hours, thousands of citizens signed it across all EU member states and worldwide and to date, they are over 150,000. The petition will be handed in to the three EU Presidents.

As noted above, given the intent of several EU governments to drastically reduce the global EU budget for the period 2014 − 2020 a fierce competition between the various sectors which share this budget is to be feared. A real possibility exists that the research budget will suffer, proportionately, much more severe cuts than the other sectors. CERN is also concerned since the Organization benefits each year from several millions of Swiss francs thanks to European projects in several areas, such as accelerators, detectors, informatics, and the Marie Curie programmes.

Therefore it is important that a maximum number of staff active in research make their voice heard, in particular by signing the petition in question, which the Staff Association wholeheartedly invites you to do. The petition can be signed at the web address:

1The ERC ( was set up in 2007 by the European Union. Its aim is to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age based in the EU. Since its launch, it has funded over 3,000 researchers and their frontier research projects and has become a "benchmark" for the competitiveness of national research systems complementing existing funding schemes at national and European levels. The ERC operates according to an "investigator-driven", or "bottom-up", approach, allowing researchers to identify new opportunities in all fields of research (Physical Sciences and Engineering, Life Sciences, and Social Sciences and Humanities).
2 This This 5.9 % cut in the total EU budget included a disproportionate cut of 12 % in the research, innovation and education budget, see
3 See
4 Text of the open letter:
5 Text of the petition:
6 ISE ( is an independent platform of European learned societies and scientific organizations. Its aim is to promote mechanisms to support all fields of science at a European level, involve scientists in the design and implementation of European science policies, and to advocate strong independent scientific advice in European policy making.
7 YAE ( is a newly established pan-European initiative of outstanding young scientists. Its aim is to create a platform for networking, scientific exchange and science policy. YAE endorsed the open letter in a statement raising their concerns regarding imminent cuts to the research budget and warned against the negative long-term consequences for Europe’s economic, social and intellectual prosperity.

Petition for the attention of the EU Heads of State or Government

A top priority for Europe: secure the EU research and innovation budget!

We* are convinced that

  • Europe’s future depends on making optimal use of its scientific talent for the benefit of science and society;
  • creative environments and research infrastructures are needed in which talent can flourish and innovations emerge;
  • reliable financial support must be provided for long-term, often risky, fundamental research. Only then will the grand challenges be addressed in a sustainable way.

Therefore, we strongly support the letter signed by Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners and urge you to act:

  • cuts in the EU budget for research, innovation and education are counter-productive as they will aggravate the problems Europe faces instead of finding solutions;
  • the European Research Council, ERC, is an undeniable success story for Europe. The ERC has demonstrated its ability to find, fund and empower the best researchers and has changed the future outlook of the younger generation. It needs to be strengthened to achieve more scientific-technological breakthroughs leading to future innovation.
  • We urge you to provide a clear signal that investment in research, innovation and education is a top political priority, especially in times of crisis. Europe has been the cradle of modern science and the role accorded to science will shape Europe’s future.


*The original statement was: "we, the researchers in Europe". However, it is not only the research community who is concerned about the current developments. Cuts in research affect the society as a whole. Without modification of the content of the petition text, we therefore enlarged the scope and we welcome the support of all concerned citizens.


Strategies for Europe

Lisbon Strategy

  • Launched in 2000 as a response to the challenges of globalization and ageing.
  • The European Council defined the objective of the strategy for the EU “to become the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion and respect for the environment”.
  • Overall, the Lisbon Strategy has had a positive impact on the EU even though its main targets (i.e. 70 % employment rate, and 3 % of GDP spent on R&D) have not been reached. In fact the R&D investments remained almost constant throughout the period 2001 − 2008 at around 1.8 % of GDP, with around 0.7 % corresponding to public expenditure.

2020 Strategy

  • Successor to the Lisbon Strategy, launched by the European Commission in March 2010.
  • Moving out of the current crisis is an immediate and enormous challenge with action along three growth axes:
    • Smart Growth: developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation.
    • Sustainable Growth: promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy.
    • Inclusive Growth: fostering a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion.
  • 3 % of EU’s GDP should be invested in Research and Development
  • The promotion of growth based on knowledge and innovation, and aimed at high-employment, must also guarantee social cohesion and sustainability.

Horizon 2020

  • EU framework programme for research and innovation.
  • Initiative to provide financial support for securing Europe’s global competitiveness drive with the help of a proposed budget of 80 billion euros* for the seven-year period 2014 − 2020.
    • Strengthen the EU’s position in science with a dedicated budget of 24.6 billion euros to boost top-level research in Europe, including an increase in funding of 77 % for the very successful European Research Council, which should be further developed in order to foster international cooperation and create a genuine single market for knowledge, research and innovation.
    • Strengthen industrial leadership in innovation (17.9 billion euros), including major investments in key technologies with greater access to capital.
    • Foresee a budget of 31.7 billion euros to address major concerns such as climate change, developing sustainable transport and mobility, making renewable energy more affordable, ensuring food safety and security, or coping with the challenge of an ageing population.


*The budgeted amounts mentioned here might be drastically cut in the on-going budget discussions on the global EU budget.


by Staff Association