Contracts for EU-funded research programmes in the areas of health, biotechnology and nanotechnology can finally be signed, now that some member states have given up their resistance to their being funded by the EU.
Under pressure of the European Parliament, the Council has decided to accept in full a Commission proposal to reshuffle funds between budget headings so as to liberate the necessary funding of €485 million.
Although a reshuffle would cost nothing, member states decided on 31 May to cut the proposed amount by more than two thirds, prompting disbelief in Parliament and placing the Commission in the difficult position, with almost 200 research contracts ready for signing and researchers ready to start work, of being unable to make the advance payments.
Parliament's Budgets Committee responded by offering to open negotiations on the use of the remainder of last year's EU budget to get the research projects going. This idea - which was to be put to a vote on Thursday - is now off the table as the Council gave in and accepted the Commission proposal.
The remainder of last year's budget (€0.7 billion) and €0.8 billion from fines and interest on late payments will therefore be returned to member states via a rebate on their GNI-based contributions to this year's EU budget. In the case of the UK, this is €207 million.
Good news for researchers and citizens
The Council's last-minute U-turn was welcomed by Francesca Balzani (S&D, IT), the MEP following the EU's 2012 budget: "This is good news for scientists, researchers and citizens all over Europe. I hope these projects will lead to innovations in the fight against cancer, diabetes, brain tumours, Parkinson's and Crohn's disease. Research is one area where scaling up to European level is the best way to go, with a huge potential for growth and jobs, so I am glad that the Council has at last agreed to these investments", she said.
Shelved EU-funded projects that can now go ahead include research on brain tumours, tuberculosis, diabetes, cancer, Crohn's disease, arthritis, Parkinson's disease and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Non-human examples include research into disease prophylaxis in fish farming and biotechnological means to disperse marine oil spills.
The resolution was passed with 585 votes in favour, 26 against and 6 abstentions.
The decision to return money to member states is taken. The budget reshuffle proposal will be endorsed by the Budgets Committee on 12 July, with no plenary vote required. The Council is expected to give its approval at the ECOFIN session on 10 July.
Procedure: Budgetary procedure