Hello. Welcome back to MEPLife. Thank you for reading.
I am sure you will understand if I come back to the election, the result and Brexit in a future message. This blog is about the work that has been going on behind the scenes. One of the huge differences about the European Parliament and Westminster is that there is no ‘government’ and no ‘opposition’. Every party, every country is expected to work on legislation for the good of all the EU.
For the past few weeks I have been doing my bit, reviewing the legislation making its way through Parliament which covers the budget and strategic agenda for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). I warn you, now, this is going to be a slightly nerdy blog.
The EIT is a curious beast that brings together business, research and education. With a seat on both ITRE, the committee with responsibility for research in the form of Horizon2020 and its successor Horizon Europe, and CULT which deals with EU educational opportunities, I was given the role as the CULT Rapporteur for the Strategic Innovation Agenda file.
The SIA defines the priority fields and strategy for the EIT for the seven-year period concerned, in line with the objectives and priorities of Horizon Europe and will include an assessment of its socioeconomic impact and its capacity to generate the best innovation added-value.
The process began in the Commission, which drafted the legislation, the first an update to the original laws that underpin the EIT. One of the critical files sets out the Strategic Innovation Agenda for the EIT for 2021 – 2027 and describes the motivation behind the EIT, its responsibilities with respect to member states and what the emphasis should be of the educational opportunities which it offers.
I first took possession of the files a couple of weeks ago – a time when I has barely even heard of the EIT. I checked informally with colleagues on CULT, ITRE and the Lib Dem delegation, and I was not the only one with a slight gap in my knowledge. Many MEPs – especially those newly elected – have never heard of the EIT, yet next year Parliament will be asked to sign off on a budget of £3bn.
So the first question was defined: Is the EIT little known because it puts out little information, because it chooses not focus on publicity, or because it does nothing remarkable?
Briefings began with the policy lawyer who will ensure that the amendments I make are presented in a way which is legally sound. Then we met the commissioner team from Education and Culture who drafted the files and talked us through the background, the impact assessment which they were responding to and, finally, some of the key successes of the EIT so far. In Strasbourg I met the DG for Education and Culture and, finally, the Director of the EIT, himself. By the time these meetings I had a much greater understanding of the EIT, the unusual way in which it operates and some of the terrific successes it’s work really has led to so far.
You can learn more about the EIT here.
Last week, on Wednesday, the whole of the CULT committee had an opportunity to ask questions of the Director and the DG of Education and Culture and it was interesting to hear the perspectives of other member states and other parties – like all committees, CULT brings together over 60 MEPs from every political persuasion. As Rapporteur for the file, I also had the chance to ask additional questions and to make a short speech on my thoughts so far.
This process means I get to scrutinise the plans and raise questions within CULT and ITRE hearings for the commissioners to then respond to. This is my first legislative file and therefore a very interesting development. To read about the exchange that I had with Vivienne Hoffman, the Deputy Director-General of the European Commission Department for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, you can go to my website. You can also watch on my YouTube channel. Although I had met with Vivienne before, this was an opportunity to get her thoughts recorded and in the public record. It also offered the chance for me to confirm the position for the many, many British researchers and companies involved with the EIT, should Brexit go ahead. Now that we know it will, her answer is more important than ever:
After Brexit, British researchers and businesses, will be welcome as partners on EIT projects. They will, however, receive no funding from the EIT, from the HORIZON programme, or from the EU. As I understand it, the deal negotiated by Theresa May guaranteed funding to replace grants from Horizon 2020 for projects already underway. Whether Johnson’s deal will guarantee the same, is as yet unclear.
Later that day, it was the turn of the ITRE Committee to have their briefing for the EIT team. meeting. One of my primary concerns has been the alarming lack of detail included in the legislation relating to science and technology. An impact study during the previous parliament session made the criticism that innovation and entrepreneurial education has been lacking and – of course – those writing the legislation went overboard to put this right. Business and innovation are critical to the EIT concept.
You can see my full speech to ITRE here.
One of my key jobs in my amendments has been to make sure that science and technology are named along side as critical factors for the future. Without invention, there’s nothing to innovate. Yes, the EIT is there to develop and selling ideas, but new technical products, medical devices, catalysers to help reduce emissions, new battery technologies all grow from minds that understand the scientific opportunities that are there to be had.
Alongside writing science into the law, I have also reinforced the idea of ambition – every member state has people who can be amazing and innovative, so widening the proposition to include files under development need not mean that we drop the ambition or the high standards of the EIT. Finally, I have added my voice to calls for openness within the different areas of research, so that new research institutions and SMEs can come into develop their ideas alongside the big boys.
The files go to the translators on Monday, at the beginning of this week, they go for scrutiny and further amendment by members of ITRE and CULT. There after the agreed text goes to Parliament, where amendments will be voted on, then the EP agreed text goes into Trilogue with the Council and the Commission and every single line will be discussed and – hopefully – agreed.
Finally, on Thursday I spoke in another ITRE meeting. This time, the topic was the delegated act setting the Union list of Projects of Common Interest (PCIs). These are meant to better connect EU member states and, ultimately, facilitate their energy supply. It does however, in many ways, fly in the face of the environmental challenge our planet faces and certainly is not in keeping with the spirit of the climate emergency we announced two weeks ago. There are too many electricity connectors being dismissed while at the same time a number of environmentally harmful gas connectors are being approved. With this in mind I was glad to hear Ms Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, say that the scrutiny period for the approval of the interconnector list is to be extended by two months. There is, after all, no point of scrutiny if there is no opportunity for change. You can watch the exchange here. Sadly she confirmed there is no room for change. Parliament and ITRE now must look to rewriting the guidelines for the next round of PCI awards, in a couple of years.
It will be sad to leave Brussels and the work that goes on there. I regret the many opportunities that we are giving up with so many of us in Britain did not know even existed. You know my opinion about the damage that Brexit is likely to do. I can only assure you that I have never hoped more fervently that I will be proved wrong.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to writing again next week!