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Commission weighs reform of its big R&D partnership projects

Draft EU paper targets cash flow and other financial problems in its Horizon 2020 ‘Joint Undertakings’ involving multiple companies, universities and governments

The European Commission is considering ways to improve the financial management of some of its biggest research partnerships.

In a draft paper obtained by Science|Business, Commission staff write that the EU’s big multi-partner R&D projects – such as the ECSEL Joint Undertaking for the micro-electronics industry – have been dogged by cash-flow and other financial problems stemming from their complex structure. The paper, for a Brussels meeting on the topic planned for 5 November, says the Commission wants to discuss some possible reforms with the member states that co-fund the projects.

The issue affects thousands of companies, universities and other organisations that participate in these projects. The ECSEL project, for instance, had more than €1.9 billion in budget for its first three years, from 2014-2016. Its mission, to develop new technologies that boost the competitiveness of Europe’s semiconductor and components industries, involves the participation of more than 1,000 companies. Yet a 2017 review of the project cited several administrative problems stemming, not from the project management itself, but from the basic set-up.

One key problem is cash flow. These so-called Joint Undertakings are run under two specific articles of the European treaties that permit the Commission to set up organisations to manage money from several funders at once – itself, the member states, and others.

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