However, few outside the commission want the EIT to claim so much; some argue that the institute has yet to prove its scientific worth. Teresa Madurell, a Spanish social-democrat MEP on the ITRE committee, suggests that the EIT should get no more than 3.1% of Horizon 2020’s funds. Paul Rübig, an Austrian Christian Democrat MEP who also sits on the committee, wants to trim that even further, suggesting that the EIT’s remit be reduced to knowledge-transfer activities only.

The EIT’s critics say that the money would be better spent on initiatives with a proven track record. The most popular programmes include the European Research Council (ERC), which dispenses excellence-based grants for frontier science, and the Marie Curie Actions programme, which provides career-development grants to young researchers. The commission proposed that the ERC’s budget should rise by 77% to €13.3 billion, but Luke Georghiou, who studies European research policy at the University of Manchester, UK, expects opposition from member states in eastern Europe, which could hold up the budget negotiations. Scientists in those countries often lose out to those from research power­houses such as the United Kingdom and Germany when ERC grants are allocated. Some say that the ERC should also fund those scientists with the ‘potential for excellence’. Vicky Ford, a British Conservative member of the ITRE committee, counters that ERC funding should go only to excellent research.

The ERC tends to fund individual researchers, so during FP7 larger collaborations have relied on separate funding streams. But some scientists are concerned that funding for applied research has squeezed out support for basic science in these programmes. Over the past four years, calls for collaborative proposals in areas of basic science such as epigenetics and protein regulation have become less frequent, says Karin Metzlaff, executive director of the European Plant Science Organisation in Brussels. She hopes that the ITRE committee meeting can help to make basic-science projects a bigger priority in Horizon 2020’s collaborative-research programme, dubbed Societal Challenges.

Overall, research is likely to be spared the EU budget’s most severe cuts, because politicians recognize that investing in science is central to boosting economic growth. Indeed, countries such as Spain, which has slashed domestic science spending owing to the financial crisis, will become more reliant on Horizon 2020 funds. That may even prompt them to give ground in negotiations on contentious issues such as human embryonic stem-cell research, says Georghiou. “They need to replace their national funding shortage,” he says.