On 5 November 2020, Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Liudas Mažylis of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“On 14 October 2020, the Commission presented the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, which aims to promote the development and use of sustainable and non-toxic chemicals. While the term ‘safe and sustainable’ will be further defined, it is promised that the development of sustainable chemicals will be promoted through existing programmes and policies. Unfortunately, a situation already exists in which Central and Eastern European scientists are being excluded from EU research projects. Such exclusion may also increase proportionally as the number of projects increases. The best illustration of the problem is that the Lithuanian researcher Professor V. Šikšnys, who was the first to demonstrate the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 (the so-called genetic scissors), was not included in the list of winners of this year’s Nobel Prize. The likely reason is that the discovery was not made in a laboratory at a globally renowned university. Another example is the existing inequalities in cancer research between countries in Western Europe and those in Central and Eastern Europe. This may be one of the factors that reduce the availability of cancer treatments in Central and Eastern Europe and lead to increased mortality rates. Cancer research centres should not be concentrated in Western Europe alone.
Can the Commission answer the following questions:
1. What concrete steps does the Commission plan to take so that scientific projects on sustainable chemicals, as well as other scientific projects, are not carried out exclusively in Western Europe?
2. What measures will be taken to reduce the gap between scientists in Western Europe and those in Central and Eastern Europe in the implementation of scientific projects?”
On 29 January 2021, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “The ‘Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability’ Communication puts major emphasis on the sustainability of chemicals and products. Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe are competitive research and innovation (R&I) programmes where evaluation and selection of proposals are based on excellence and impact without any pre-allocated national envelopes.
The Commission is aware of the diversity of situations regarding research and innovation in the EU Member States and is working to support improvements that will widen the access to excellence throughout Europe, even if this remains primarily the responsibility of Member States by investing smartly and undertaking the necessary reforms.
More precisely, in Horizon 2020, a set of targeted actions with a budget of EUR 900 million were introduced to help countries lagging behind in terms of research and innovation performance to boost their R&I performance and widen their participation in the framework Programme.
The efforts are reinforced for Horizon Europe, as the co-legislators have agreed to increase the budget for all widening activities to 3.3% of the total Horizon Europe budget as compared to about 1% in Horizon 2020.
Such increased budget for widening measures will not only allow to continue and fine-tune actions known from Horizon 2020, but it will also support additional measures that were agreed between co-legislators for Horizon Europe.
Some of these novelties will include activities to foster brain circulation, improving the quality of proposals from low R&I performing countries, boosting activities of National Contact Points, establishing match-making services, promoting initiatives on excellence and for joining ongoing collaborative R&I projects.”
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