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European scientists call for 3% of GDP to be devoted to research

Olivier Anbergen/European Union 2021
Olivier Anbergen/European Union 2021 Copyright Olivier Anbergen/European Union 2021
Copyright Olivier Anbergen/European Union 2021
By Aida Sanchez Alonso
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The EU falls short of the research funding levels called for and is at a clear disadvantage compared to South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

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With the European elections approaching, scientists from across the European Union are uniting for the first time to call for increased science funding from their candidates.

"It is essential to preserve the collaborative, open and international nature of scientific work," said the 27 EU science academies in a statement presented last week in Brussels, Belgium.

"At least 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in research and education is the way of saying that we cannot limit ourselves to following emergencies, but that we work together to build a solid Europe, necessary for a truly uncertain world," says Patrizio Bianchi, member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

Bianchi highlights the importance of preparing for unforeseen needs and calls for a collective decision on investment priorities to prevent "long stagnation" and ensure resources are allocated to areas critical for handling emergencies.

A continent at disadvantage

The EU is currently below the spending target of 3% of GDP on research, achieving only 2.27%. There are significant disparities among Member States, ranging from Belgium at 3.43% to six countries spending less than 1%, with Romania at the lowest, allocating just 0.47%.

The EU also lags behind other countries in research spending, with South Korea at 4.93%, the United States at 3.46%, Japan at 3.34%, and China at 2.41%, putting the continent at a significant disadvantage.

The 2021 data shows that the EU invested 331 billion euros in research and development, marking a 6.9% increase from the previous year and a 45% rise over the past decade compared to 2011.

Increasing competition between countries and more complex challenges leave the EU in a less favourable position, according to the president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Marileen Dogterom. "We probably need science more than ever because of the complexity of the challenges we face," she says, a sentiment echoed by the other signatories. In their joint statement, they call for a "guarantee that scientific knowledge is used in the development of public policies."

Researchers feel neglected in the European election campaign

The scientific community feels overlooked in the European election campaign, highlighted by the fact that only two European parties advocate for increasing the GDP allocation to research and development. The European People's Party is pushing for a combined investment of 4% of GDP from both the EU and Member States, emphasizing scientific excellence. Meanwhile, The European Left proposes reserving 7% of the EU's GDP for education, research, and innovation.

While several electoral manifestos mention the role of science, they primarily focus on its connection to the energy transition, industrial and digital transformation, or support for women in scientific sectors.

The community also calls on Member States and EU institutions to "make systematic and informed use of scientific knowledge in policy-making".

They also demand that European politicians "respect and protect the principle of academic freedom, the autonomy of their institutions and the open international exchange of people and knowledge, guaranteeing at all times safe and stable working conditions for scientists and students".

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