The EU is defined by its political and social values, the creation of a common market, and finding collective responses to global problems. The 2019 European elections were framed by concerns closely related to these, and which elicited real controversy—migration, the environment, the market, human rights.
The growth of the far right, as well as the greens and the liberals, represents a fundamental clash on these issues. What does this mean for science and innovation?
The centre-right European People’s Party group and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group together lost their majority, but between them still hold the most seats. The EPP wants to invest in artificial intelligence and strengthen Europe’s small and medium-sized enterprises. It also demands an ‘innovation offensive’, an ethically informed push to exploit European leadership in AI, robotics, biomedicine, big data and engineering. The S&D is similarly keen on creating jobs through investment in research and innovation.
These priorities have already had a big impact on the EU’s next R&D programme Horizon Europe. It was the European Parliament, led by rapporteurs from the EPP and the S&D, that tied 70 per cent of the European Innovation Council’s funding to SMEs.
The Greens, up from 50 seats to 74 seats, demand investment in a green economy, including a focus on research and eco-innovation.
But if one party made a comprehensive pre-election commitment to both innovation and research, it was the other big winner from the political centre ground, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, which went from 67 seats to 105 seats.
Alde is calling for the EU and member states to fulfil their commitment to spend 3 per cent of GDP on research and innovation. It wants more research across Europe, and it makes specific demands on Horizon Europe, including a simplification of the application process.
The new Parliament will continue its strong support for research and especially innovation, focusing on challenge-led research. There is a broad consensus on investing in ethically responsible research and innovation on digital transformations. And all parties of the centre are committed to the environment and sustainable development, even if the Greens are by far the most explicit.
These challenges already feature prominently in Horizon Europe. Over the next five years, the Parliament will surely insist on the programme fulfilling its commitment to spend 35 per cent of its budget on climate-related research and innovation.
With policymakers focusing on innovation and societal impact, academics need to make the case to the new Parliament that transformative discoveries depend on strong fundamental research. Parliamentarians must understand that not supporting the entire research pipeline, including frontier-led research, would be a devastating act of self-harm