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July 20, 2010

Commission to divert 400m euros from FP7 to pay for Iter

More than 400 million euros will have to be diverted from Framework 7 to cover the rising costs of Iter, the international fusion research project, a Commission proposal states.

Finding the money for Iter means that 100m euros will be taken from Framework 7 in 2012, and another 360m euros in 2013, the Commission says. The proposal is an attempt to smooth things over with member states, which are refusing to front the cash needed to keep Iter going. The European contribution to the project is expected to more than double: from 2.7 billion euros agreed in 2006 to around 7bn euros by 2013.

During a Council meeting on 12 July the member states said they would not provide the extra money, and that it should come from the existing EU budget, primarily Framework 7. Europe needs to find an additional 1.4 billion euros to pay for Iter’s construction by 2013, meaning that just under 1bn euros will still have to be found somewhere.

The European Commission said that it would use 400m euros of “unused funds” from other parts of the budget, with the rest to be specified later this year. But the statement did not specify which other EU budget lines might be affected by the cuts. The cost increases at Iter have worried European research institutes such as the European Research Council and European renewable energy labs.

Helga Nowotny, the president of the ERC, said the proposal was threatening basic research, while energy groups worry that additional funding for Iter might come out of their budget. “For the Commission now to cut funding would effectively be to declare the Strategic Energy Technology Plan dead,” says Greg Arrowsmith, a policy adviser for the European Renewable Energy Centres Agency, referring to a Commission plan to boost funding for alternative energy technologies. He adds that spending cuts should be diverted to cohesion policy and agriculture, and that the funding debacle surrounding Iter should lead to a complete overhaul of the EU budget.

The European Commission, however, underlined that its support for Iter, which is developed in partnership with Russia, Japan, Korea, India, China and the United States, was unfaltering. “The EU needs to show the vision and the resolve beyond the immediate financing difficulties and meet its international commitment to this project,” said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the research commissioner. “Iter can provide a safe, clean and inexhaustible source of energy for the future. This is an immense prize – especially when you consider that the EU had a trade deficit in energy of nearly 400 billion euros in 2008.”

The proposal will be presented to member states on 22 July, and a plan for finding the money is expected to be agreed during the next Competitiveness Council in November.

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