EU research funding + free software

Karsten Gerloff gerloff at
Wed Jun 25 10:16:57 UTC 2014

Hi Nikos, 

thanks for the question! 

On Sun, Jun 22, 2014 at 06:47:47PM +0200, Nikos Mavrogiannopoulos wrote:
> Hello,
>  I was made aware of the following fosdem talk about EU research funding
> and free software:
> My experience with EU projects is that it is infeasible for any small
> project to manage the bureaucracy required by the EU. Could FSFE assume
> that role? As far as I know all EU projects include funds for
> secretarial work, so that could be assumed by paid positions within
> FSFE. What do you think?

tl;dr: Participating in EU projects usually isn't an efficient way
for FSFE to achieve its goals. It makes sense for FSFE only when
the project is 100% aligned with what we're trying to do; and even
then, the administrative overhead is a big problem. We usually
don't participate in such projects unless there's a compelling
reason to do so.

FSFE has participated in a few FP6 and FP7 projects, e.g. SELF and
STACS. Like pretty much everybody else, we don't yet have any
experience yet with Horizon 2020 [1], which started only recently.

As far as I know, there have been some updates to the various
funding schemes, but they haven't fundamentally changed, so I'm
assuming that Horizon 2020 works mostly in the same way as FP7
did. I'm bound to find out more shortly. 

When I'm talking about "EU projects" in this mail, I'm
referring to FP6 / FP7 / Horizon 2020. There's a bunch of other
unrelated funding schemes that are completely different.

We are frequently approached about becoming involved in EU
projects; but we rarely do. Participating in such a project only
makes sense for FSFE if the project is pretty much 100% aligned
with things we want to do anyway. That's rarely the case. 

Under the rules of these projects, the EU pays up to 100% of the
staff time for the employees participating in the project, plus an
overhead rate that goes toward administrative work related to the
project. (That's if you're lucky. Under a lot of schemes, you only
get 75%.)

The overhead rate -- which I guess is what you refer to
when you say "secretarial work" -- goes toward handling the

And boy, is there a lot of paperwork. I hear that things are
supposed to have gotten slightly better with Horizon 2020, but
it's still *a lot*. 

That's fine if you're working at a decent-sized university
department or a company. There's usually a staffer there who
handles everyone's paperwork for EU projects. But if you don't
have such a person, then the paperwork will kill you. 

The heaviest administrative workload is handled by the project
coordinator, i.e. the leader of the consortium. When we 
participated in EU projects in the past, we did so as a simple
partner in the consortium. That limits the paperwork somewhat, but
it's still significant.

The staff time that the EU pays for can be used only for
contributions to the project, both for working on the project's
substance, and for administration. Otherwise taxpayers would be
crying bloody murder about the abuse of public funds, and they'd
be right.

In short: An EU project usually isn't an efficient way to finance
our activities adn achieve our goals.

Best regards,

[1] The EC thought that "Horizon 2020" sounded sexier than "FP8". 

Karsten Gerloff                      [ ]   <gerloff at>
Free Software Foundation Europe   [ ][ ][ ]      []
President                            | |         +49 176 9690 4298
Support software freedom!                []

Free Software Foundation Europe e.V. is a German Verein registered
at the Registergericht Hamburg (VR 17030). 

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