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EUROPE
Horizon 2020 – Europe's grand research funding scheme
The European Parliament voted last Thursday on the final version of the union’s record research and innovation programme for 2014-20, dubbed Horizon 2020. The European Union (EU) has allocated €79 billion (US$106 billion) to spend on research and innovation projects, not just on the continent but also around the world.

The European University Association, or EUA, welcomed the 21 November approval by the parliament.

Speaking to University World News, Dr Lidia Borrell-Damián, the EUA’s director of research and innovation, said the overall increase in funding over the €54 billion assigned to the outgoing EU Seventh Framework Programme – FP7 – for research was “very welcome”.

Even at 2011 prices, the budget has gone up – to €70 billion – at a time when the EU budget overall is facing real-time reductions.

Selection process

However, Borrell-Damián said universities would be keeping a close eye on the rules for choosing research projects, which are usually undertaken by consortia of universities, businesses and other organisations from more than one EU member state.

The European Commission has said it wants a more open selection process than in past EU framework programmes. These have asked for feedback on potential projects on the basis of broad research policy priorities. This was then turned into detailed calls for proposals that often limited the number of applicants.

With Horizon 2020, the commission is expected to make less detailed calls for proposals, having dispensed with the initial round of consultation. The aim is to increase competition for funding, prompting the development of more proposals.

But the details of how this will work are awaited. “That is still to be seen: how the evaluation will be organised, and will guarantee that there is a fair evaluation of the proposals received,” said Borrell-Damián.

A date in the diary will be 11 December, when the commission should release its first Horizon 2020 calls for proposals, which should include more information on evaluation.

Research universities welcomed the vote

Meanwhile, the League of European Research Universities, or LERU, also welcomed the European Parliament vote, saying it sent “an important signal of support for research and innovation”.

LERU had been concerned about delays in approval because of EU budget wrangling, especially given that Horizon 2020 starts on New Year’s Day:

“LERU is pleased that a protracted and unsettling period of insecurity about the EU's overall budget is finally over and that a close but still timely start of Horizon 2020 is now possible…limiting the funding gap between FP7 and Horizon 2020 to the unavoidable minimum, which is of great importance to the scientific community,” said a LERU communiqué.

It also welcomed that Horizon 2020 is more oriented towards promoting economic development than FP7.

Looking at current prices, €17 billion has been allocated to "industrial leadership"; €24.4 billion to "excellent science"; €29.7 billion to "societal challenges"; €2.7 billion to the European Institute of Innovation and Technology; and €1.6 billion for nuclear energy research; with €3.2 billion left over for other budget headings.

“It is a very positive signal that the EU is investing more in growth and jobs in the next seven years than it did in the previous budgetary period,” said LERU.

Boost for European Research Council

Of this money, more than €13 billion will be routed through the European Research Council, or ERC, which funds basic research.

This 75% increase over earlier years was welcomed by ERC President Helga Nowotny, who said it “will allow the ERC to continue its mission – finding and funding the very best researchers with the most creative ideas – with renewed vigour.

“The ERC will continue to promote excellence in science and fund research that often leads to vital, but unpredictable, breakthroughs.”

Borrell-Damián added that Horizon 2020 would complement this by spending more on turning useful discoveries into products and services that can be brought to the market.

And she welcomed an increased emphasis in the programme on encouraging small- and medium-sized businesses to get involved. They have often been deterred in past framework programmes by a combination of complex application processes and a significant risk of failing to win a grant.

The European Commission has said a key goal of Horizon 2020 will be simplifying those application procedures for smaller businesses, encouraging more research proposals.
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