In November 2019, the European Society of Radiology (ESR) voiced its enthusiasm and welcomed the ambitious health agenda for Europe and the commitment to move the European Data Space forward. More recently, the ESR also strongly supported the impressive EU4Health programme considered as the EU’s response to COVID19.
However, on 21 July 2020, EU leaders reached an agreement on the budget for COVID19 recovery and the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the seven-year framework programme regulating the European Union’s annual budget. An agreement that resulted in a proposed reduction of EU health and research budgets.
The budget presented for Horizon Europe, the next Research and Innovation framework programme, has gone from €94.4 billion to €80.9 billion. Similarly, for the Digital Europe Programme that aims to boost investments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and make the European Union a frontrunner in the sector, ambitions were lowered from €9.2 billion to €6.8 billion1. As for the new proposed EU4Health programme, intended to prepare for the next pandemic, the suggested budget was brought down by the European Council to €1.7 billion instead of €9.4 billion.
The European Society of Radiology regrets this decision as we believe that research and AI are the major drivers for radiology as well as healthcare advancement and are beneficial to the prosperity of our societies. A swift agreement was admittedly needed for a European Union recovery. However, the decision fails to acknowledge the lessons learned from the COVID19 crisis and the investment needs in health research to promote and protect public health.
This step backwards will take a toll on making Europe a research and innovation hub and on improving digital capacities across the European Union. The ESR has consistently called for AI and health data to be used to its full potential, for more integrated and person-centred approaches, a coordinated action on non-communicable diseases and for medical imaging to have a key role in cancer screening, detection and early diagnosis. Nevertheless, these ambitions will be difficult to achieve with plummeting health and research budgets at EU level.
The European Society of Radiology welcomes the European Parliament’s vivid reaction to the political agreement on the 2021-2027 MFF and COVID19 recovery fund. However, we urge European institutions to collaborate closely with each other and to continue supporting strong and ambitious health and research budgets for the well-being and prosperity of European citizens.