Increased international participation for Horizon 2020

International collaboration has been an important element in the European Commission’s research framework programmes, and work is ongoing to strengthen such cooperation significantly in the huge Horizon 2020 research initiative that kicks off in January 2014.

In Framework Programme Seven 2007-13, or FP7, consortium members from outside Europe accounted for 5,500 projects – 5% of participation – drawing around 2% of the programme budget. One in five projects included an international partner.

The top international partners in FP7 were Russia, India, China and South Africa – four of the BRICS countries – and Ukraine and the United States.

The European Commission recently released a “Fact Sheet: International participation in Horizon 2020”, following a previous communication in September 2012 outlining the commission’s new approach to international cooperation in Horizon 2020.

The importance of international cooperation, says the Fact Sheet, is “explicitly recognised” in Horizon 2020, which will be the primary instrument for implementing the European Union’s international research and innovation cooperation actions – complemented, where appropriate, with national funding.

The objectives of international collaboration are: strengthening the European Union’s research excellence and attractiveness and its economic and industrial competitiveness; tackling global societal challenges; and supporting EU external policies.

“Many of our international partner countries are investing more and more in research and innovation, and cooperation will be vital if research is to reach its full potential. An active and more strategic international cooperation will also contribute to achieving the EU’s wider policy objectives,” says the Fact Sheet.

The European Union is a global research and innovation powerhouse. With 7% of the world's population, it accounts for 24% of world expenditure on research, 32% of high impact publications and 32% of patent applications.

But the EU says that as more and more knowledge is created in ‘third countries’, it must be in a position to access this knowledge – and the people creating it – in order to remain an attractive location for research and a partner of choice for engaging in cooperation.

Collaboration under Horizon 2020

Like its predecessors, Horizon 2020 will be open to participation from across the world. This general openness will be complemented by targeted actions in specific areas and with specific partner countries and regions based on the principle of common interest and mutual benefit.

Any legal entity will be able to participate in Horizon 2020, but only countries that have a gross domestic product below €3 trillion (US$4.1 trillion) will be eligible for ‘automatic’ funding.

There are three groupings under the new international strategy – industrialised and emerging economies will only receive funding under specific circumstances; European enlargement and neighbouring countries, and developing countries, will receive ‘automatic funding’.

High-income countries that are not EU associated countries usually participate in EU projects on a self-financing basis, except in exceptional circumstances, such as when there is a reciprocal agreement or the contribution of the country is essential for the project’s success.

Individual researchers can participate in Horizon 2020 regardless of nationality.

Also, researchers from anywhere in the world can apply for a European Research Council grant to go to Europe and conduct research. Currently around 200 ERC grantees out of nearly 4,000 are non-Europeans. Research teams set up by ERC grantees are highly international – an estimated 18% of team members are non-Europeans.

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, or MCAs, are a key EU instrument to attract researchers to Europe from around the world, the Fact Sheet points out. Mobility grants are competitively awarded to researchers of any nationality, with the aims of enhancing international research collaboration and facilitating the mobility and exchange of researchers.

“Since their creation in 1996, the MCAs have helped train over 65,000 fellows of more than 130 nationalities, 30% of them coming from outside Europe. They will be further developed under Horizon 2020,” it says.

University World News previously estimated that 25,000 young researchers would receive a Marie Curie grant under Horizon 2020, and it is likely that some 5,000 of them will be from outside the EU and its associated states.

Facilitating cooperation

The European Commission has explained that a series of ‘multi-annual roadmaps’ will be implemented, with research and innovation projects supported where the participation of third countries is required or taken into account.

These collaboration roadmaps have been developed or are in progress with several countries including Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. They are expected to specify instruments, priorities and synergies with different countries.

The European Council and European Commission advisory body SFIC – Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation – meets several times a year, looking for common priorities that could lead to coordinated or joint initiatives, and coordinating activities and positions with third countries and within international forums. SFIC also contributes to the implementation and monitoring of the roadmaps.

Dan Andrée, chair of SFIC and strategic and special advisory to Sweden’s innovation agency VINNOVA and the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research, told University World News that he supported the increased participation of third countries in European research.

“Personally I think we should move from a European Research Area to a global research area.”

The European Commission will implement Horizon 2020 through work programmes, which will consult a programme committee which has representation from EU member states and associated countries. SFIC will contribute to discussions on international cooperation, Andrée said, “without overlapping with the formal role of the programme committee".

Aside from contributing to the roadmaps process, SFIC is helping to develop a set of common principles for cooperation with third countries, including on issues such as intellectual property, open access, peer review and researcher mobility. “SFIC is also engaged in activities in, for example, China, India, Brazil and the United States.”

Researchers from any country can participate in Horizon 2020, but the transfer of funds to a legal entity outside member or associated states depends on their participation being deemed essential to the project, or funding is provided under a bilateral S&T agreement.

For instance, legal entities in America such as the National Institutes of Health can receive EU funding, as the US research funding agency is open for EU researchers.

“There is hence a plethora of intentional documentation on the ambition of Horizon 2020" to include, attract and train the best talent worldwide in order to remain competitive and consolidate the European Research Area,” said Andrée.

“How this is going to be handled in the very hard competition for projects selected is perhaps ‘business as usual’ from the experiences in FP7.”

Dr Sean McCarthy, head of Hyperion Ltd, which provides training for research organisations in designing and implementing their European Research Strategy, told University World News that the international dimension would be important in Horizon 2020.

“In practice this means that during the selection of the proposals, if there are five proposals with a score of 14.0 (out of 15.0), the commission will use criteria such as 'international partner' as a key selection criterion.

“The message to researchers is that they should consider international partners – if it makes sense for the project. And these should not be 'cosmetic' partners.”