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EU deal cuts ITER €1.2-billion deficit by €840 million, spares research budget

After more than a year of deadlock, representatives of the European Commission, EU member states, and the European Parliament yesterday agreed on a deal that slashes €840 million (US$1.1 billion) from the €1.2 billion deficit in the 2012–2013 budget of ITER, the EU-led international effort to build a fusion-energy test reactor. The deficit arose from repeated cost overruns — in 2006, ITER was projected to cost €5 billion, but that sum has now grown to €15 billion. The new deal comes in the nick of time: had the deficit not been closed by the end of the year, construction of the reactor site in Cadarache, France, would have faced significant delays. Read my piece about this (“”http://www.nature.com/news/outcry-over-eu-budget-plan-1.9506">Outcry over EU budget plan") which was published in Nature earlier this week.

A ‘trilogue’ of the council, commission and parliament agreed on 1 December on firm commitments to meet €840 million of ITER’s outstanding deficit of €1.2 billion in its budget for 2012-2013. Under the plan, ITER would get €650 million of this in 2012, and the remaining €190 million in 2013. The EU will find the €840 million by transferring €450 million from this year’s budget for the common agricultural policy, fisheries, rural development, and environment, and by transferring €390 million from the budget for administration costs of EU institutions over this year and next. The deal must still be officially approved by the Council and the European Parliament but this is likely to be a formality.

The terms of the deal are also good news for the EU research budget. At the previous, and unsuccessful, trilogue on 23 November, the commission had proposed taking €300 million from the current Framework research budget, but this was opposed by the European Parliament.

The trilogue could not agree how to find immediately the money needed to eliminate the remaining €360-million ITER deficit, but pledged to find it somewhere in the 2013 EU budget. A source close to the meeting says that “while it may be tempting to look at this as the glass being half-empty,” the meeting technically couldn’t say from where in the 2013 budget the money could be taken, as the shape of 2013 budget has itself not yet even been agreed upon. Given the commitment by all three parties at the trilogue, the pledge will stand up, he predicts: “I think it’s a done deal.”

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