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Fact check: Was Borissov correct about the importance of Gabriel’s portfolio?

Borissov speaks to journalists on 28 May 2019 [Georgi Gotev]

By Georgi Gotev

Several days ago Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the new portfolio of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel will have a budget three times larger than her previous one. Gabriel was one of the two Commissioners responsible for the Digital Single Market, and is now getting ‘Innovation and Youth’.

It would be unfair to estimate the importance of any portfolio by its respective budget. The EU budget for research and innovation however is a big one – more than €100 billion over the next seven years, from 2021 to 2027. In addition, Education, Youth, Sport and Culture was in the range of €23 billion, and likely to double in the next seven-year period. Nevertheless, this is less compared to the Common Agricultural Policy budget – €775 billion, or to regional policy – €350 billion. By the way, Borissov said he didn’t want the Agricultural portfolio, because in his words all the money there was already distributed…

It’s true that the money for research and innovation doesn’t get allocated according to quotas, as for agriculture: the stakeholders have to fight for it. And the Commissioner in charge is lobbied for the different ideas how to spend the money. Obviously in Borissov’s view, this is why the agriculture portfolio wasn’t interesting.

The problem is that EU funds for research and development are likely to be spent on what is called “excellence”: the best universities, academies, laboratories, clusters, mostly in the West.

Happily enough, the EU has also developed the concept of inclusiveness, which probably means that the poorer or less developed countries should also have their chance. For the older EU members, a Commissioner from Eastern Europe in charge of the important research portfolio provides a good excuse: if these countries would get more, it would be under her watch.

So Borissov is right – Gabriel has a big and modern portfolio, and the money there hasn’t been distributed yet. How will it be distributed is another question.

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