What’s an R&D programme for? How Horizon Europe negotiations show mounting east-west tensions

It’s about the respect’: Science|Business reconstructs how disputes over the demand for equal pay for researchers from poorer EU13 countries played out in negotiations over the planned €94.1 billion R&D programme - By Richard L. Hudson

One of the clichés of Brussels is the negotiation that goes into the wee hours of the morning. On the night of March 19th to 20th, just such a meeting dragged past 2:30am over a few key issues – chief among them: how much a scientist in Romania or Slovakia is worth to Europe.

The dispute – still far from over – involves the way the European Commission pays researchers when they join European Union projects. In most cases, the Commission reimburses universities and others for whatever they normally pay scientists in their countries. Given the economic disparities around the EU, that leads to some striking pay imbalances: on average, €3,240 a month in its poorer, mostly eastern countries, against €5,260 in the richer north and west.

Unfair, some say. “I think the principle of equal pay for equal work is something which just cannot be denied,” argues Dan Nica, a Romanian member of the European Parliament who was in that late-night bargaining session and proposed a 25 per cent pay boost for grantees from poorer countries.

He offers a hypothetical: “You have a team of five researchers (in a project). Three are from the (rich) EU-15, and two are from the (poor) EU-13. These five researchers deliver the same quality of work… So how can you justify that three of them are paid twice the other two?”

“It’s not about the money,” Nica adds. “It’s about the respect.”

The counter-argument, advanced by the Commission and others: The east-west pay gap is a shame, but you can’t use a European science programme to fix a national economic problem. That’s an issue for another EU programme, “cohesion” funding for regional development.

“What is the purpose” of R&D funding? asks Janez Potočnik, former EU research Commissioner, and a Slovenian economist. “The purpose is to strengthen science and the competitiveness of the EU. It’s not a cohesion policy.”
PART 1: How to pay a scientist

When András Báldi, a prominent Hungarian ecologist, first joined a European Union research project, he got a bit of a surprise.

As is routine in these big, multinational consortia, the participating researchers send their salary information to the leader of the group for reimbursement out of the Brussels grant. In his case, the leader, “wrote back that I probably mistyped something.” He was being paid far less than his west European partners.

He didn’t make a fuss. Being a scientist, “Isn’t something you do if you want to earn a lot of money. I’m in ecology. Most people are here for the love of nature. Salary is a secondary issue,” Báldi said.

That was 15 years ago, when Hungary and many other former East Bloc countries joined the EU, but the issue hasn’t gone away. In Horizon 2020, the general rule is that the Commission reimburses whatever a researcher’s institution says is their normal salary, within limits - since February 2017, up to whatever a comparable R&D project in his or her home country would pay. So because Swedish government projects pay better than Romanian, a post-doc in Stockholm gets, on average, €7,540 a month (the highest in Europe.) By contrast, lowest paid are researchers in Warsaw or Zagreb: on average, €2,610. Yet in almost every country, Horizon generally pays better than average national salary levels – private and public sector combined. And it isn’t just the east that is affected, salaries are lower in Portugal and Greece, too; it just hasn’t become as big an issue there.....

See the whole article: https://sciencebusiness.net/framework-programmes/news/whats-rd-programme...