EC gives details of €100 billion research proposal

The European Commission has announced the details of its €100 billion (US$118 billion) proposal for the next long-term budget for its research and innovation programme for 2021-27, which it calls the “most ambitious research and innovation programme ever”.

Horizon Europe, as the new programme is known, “will build on the achievements and success of the previous research and innovation programme (Horizon 2020) and keep the European Union at the forefront of global research and innovation,” the commission declared last Thursday.

European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said: “EU funding has allowed teams across countries and scientific disciplines to work together and make unthinkable discoveries, making Europe a world-class leader in research and innovation. With Horizon Europe, we want to build on this success and continue to make a real difference in the lives of citizens and society as a whole.”

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: "Horizon 2020 is one of Europe's biggest success stories. The new Horizon Europe programme aims even higher.

“As part of this, we want to increase funding for the European Research Council to strengthen the EU's global scientific leadership, and re-engage citizens by setting ambitious new missions for EU research. We are also proposing a new European Innovation Council to modernise funding for ground-breaking innovation in Europe."

In addition to funding the European Research Council and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowships and exchanges, Horizon Europe will establish the European Innovation Council to help the EU “become a frontrunner in market-creating innovation”.

It will be a one-stop shop to bring the most promising high potential and breakthrough technologies from lab to market application, and help the most innovative start-ups and companies scale up their ideas, the commission said.

New EU-wide research and innovation missions will be agreed, focusing on societal challenges and industrial competitiveness. The commission said these will be “bold, ambitious goals” to “tackle issues that affect our daily lives”, such as fighting cancer, developing clean transport or working towards plastic-free oceans. The missions will be co-designed with citizens, stakeholders, the European Parliament and member states.

Support will be doubled for member states lagging behind in their efforts to make the most of their national research and innovation potential. Rule changes on use of Structural and Cohesion Funds will make it easier to coordinate and combine funding and help regions embrace innovation.

Flexible funding for failed bids

Of particular interest to universities, the rule changes will enable national governments to use Structural and Cohesion Funds to fund failed Horizon Europe bids that have achieved the Seal of Excellence.

Another significant rule change, on third-country participation, will also open up the programme to participants anywhere in the world, which also paves the way for the United Kingdom to be allowed to pay to participate once Brexit takes effect, as reported by University World News.

The principle of 'open science' will become the modus operandi of Horizon Europe, requiring open access to publications and data. This will assist market uptake and increase the innovation potential of results generated by EU funding, the commission says.

There will be a streamlining of the next generation of European Partnerships and increased collaboration with other EU programmes to “increase their effectiveness and impact”. The partners include industry, civil society and funding foundations.

The proposed budget allocation of €100 billion for 2021-27 includes €97.6 billion under Horizon Europe (€3.5 billion of which will be allocated under the InvestEU Fund) and €2.4 billion for the Euratom Research and Training Programme.

The Euratom programme, which funds research and training on nuclear safety, security and radiation protection, will have an increased focus on non-power applications such as healthcare and medical equipment, and will also support the mobility of nuclear researchers under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions.

The proposal will now be put forward for negotiation, which is expected to be intense in the latter half of this year, in an effort to secure agreement before events in the political cycle – upcoming national elections in some countries in the spring, European Parliamentary elections in May and renewal of the European Commission – potentially cause delay and disruption.

The European Commission says about two-thirds of Europe's economic growth over the recent decades has been driven by innovation. Horizon Europe is expected to generate new and more knowledge and technologies, promoting scientific excellence, and to have positive effects on growth, trade and investment and significant social and environmental impact.

“Each euro invested by the programme can potentially generate a return of up to 11 euro of GDP over 25 years. Union investments in R&I [research and innovation] are expected to directly generate an estimated gain of up to 100,000 jobs in R&I activities in the ‘investment phase’ (2021-2027),” the commission said.

Enora Bennetot Pruvot, deputy director for governance, funding and public policy development at the European University Association (EUA), told University World News the proposed budget allows for a strong first pillar on excellence research with more money for the European Research Council, broadly in line with the increase for the overall programme.

But the EUA is concerned that Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions are not being given the equivalent increase, despite their strong contribution to structuring the European Research Area.

Bennetot Pruvot said the bulk of the money will be spent on the second pillar on societal challenges, which is where she expects the new missions to be anchored, and the EUA wants to see a healthy mix of “bottom up and top down collaboration with stakeholders and citizens properly involved”.

European commissioners hope to set up ‘mission boards’ early next year, via which stakeholders, including universities and research institutions, will be invited to define which missions the European research landscape should be funding. Then within the chosen themes, particular missions will be further defined.

Not enough money

The EUA echoes the concerns of the European Parliament that not enough money is being earmarked to those missions and is calling for the European Commission, Parliament and member states to provide the programme with funding that matches the declared ambitions, and therefore the EUA calls for double the overall funding to the programme, in comparison to Horizon 2020.

Bennetot Pruvot said the pillar on strengthening the European Research Area via capacity building linked to structural issues will help unlock potential in less research intensive areas of Europe and has been streamlined and given more money than under Horizon 2020.

It includes a renewed focus on policy reform, particularly support for policy reform at the national level to develop financial and regulatory frameworks that are important to develop research potential.

She said universities will welcome the increased flexibility in funding rules that will enable member states to use structural funds to support excellent proposals whose bids for Horizon Europe funding have failed purely due to the high level of competition.

“Ideally the commission would increase funding for all excellent proposals, but at least this will make it easier for them to get funding,” Bennetot Pruvot said.

It won’t be so easy, however, for international consortia with participants from a number of countries to access funding in this way because it would require securing the agreement of multiple countries for each proposal.

“The interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 shows that, as of May 2018, it has supported over 18,000 projects with over €31 billion [US$36 billion] awarded,” the commission said in a statement on Thursday.

Bennetot Pruvot said it is important to note from the commission’s Horizon Europe proposal the public acknowledgment that EU research policy and investment in the research area has a high return on investment. “Now the question will be to uphold this position in a negotiation process that could be very complex and long.”