The European Commission has proposed transferring hundreds of millions of euros from the EU’s research programme and other unused funds from the EU’s budget to fill a €1.4 billion shortfall in funding for the construction of an experimental fusion reactor.
The Commission on Tuesday (20 July) recommended moving €860 million in funds to help cover the EU’s commitment to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project up to 2013. Of that amount, €460 million will be shifted from heading 1A of the EU’s budget, which is earmarked for promoting growth and competitiveness. The remaining €540 million is to be secured in negotiations on the EU’s 2011 budget between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament this autumn, the Commission said.
Janusz Lewandowski, the European commissioner for budget and financial programming, and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the commissioner for research and innovation, said the spending was justified. They said ITER “can provide a safe, clean and inexhaustible source of energy for the future”.
The ITER project is supposed to develop a new type of energy reactor able to produce cheap energy. EU nations agreed to pay almost half the cost of the reactor’s construction in exchange for it being located in Cadarache, France. Other countries involved in the project are China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
A meeting of EU member states on 12 July asked the Commission to come up with a new financing plan to help meet the financial shortfall. They also agreed on a new cap on the EU’s contribution to the international project, saying member states will only give €6.6 billion in funding and “in kind” contributions to ITER up to 2020.
The project has been plagued by rising costs since it was launched in 2007. The EU’s contribution had ballooned to €7.2 billion, compared to an initial estimate of €2.7bn. The Parliament and the Commission have called on member states to come up with new money to meet the extra costs outside the EU budget. But facing budget cuts at home, member states instead called for the Commission to divert money from within the EU budget.
The Commission said it would present the new financing proposal at a special ITER Council meeting planned for 27-28 July in France even though the plan still needs the approval of member states and MEPs.
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