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Austrian academics float ideas for next EU research programme

A think-tank set up by the Austrian government calls for simpler rules, more robust evaluation, greater participation from non-EU researchers - and a guarantee that the FP9 budget will not be raided to fund other schemes

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The next EU research programme needs radical simplification and beefed up management and evaluation, according to leading Austrian researchers, who are the first to publicly float ideas for Horizon 2020’s successor.

The 15-member Austrian Framework Programme 9 (FP9) Think Tank, set up by the government, outlines its thoughts in a paper released this week. The group, which includes former president of the European Research Council Helga Nowotny, gathered recommendations in meetings held between May and September in Vienna.

The think tank sets out a broad vision for FP9, saying the Framework Programmes can be considered as one of the cornerstones of the European integration project. “In view of the challenging overall situation the EU is facing, [FP9] should, above all, instill a renewed sense of purpose and belief into the future of Europe and the EU, based on the enormous potential that science, research, technology and innovation continue to generate.”

The current EU research programme, Horizon 2020, runs until the end of 2020. The Austrian paper appears timed to complement discussions in Brussels around its successor, provisionally referred to as the ninth Framework Programme (FP9), for which the European Commission has already commissioning several foresight reports.

For FP9, the Commission needs to considerably strengthen evaluation capacity. In addition, rules around funding are still complex and a greater push is needed to radically simplify the process. 

“More emphasis and more resources must be invested into managing the programme, not for the sake of increased bureaucracy and control, but for improving the uptake and impact of the research funded,” the report says.

There should be a transparent process conducted by independent experts for the selection of new research themes for FP9. Choices should not be based on “national or sectoral lobbying”.

Societal challenges, such as tackling climate change and antimicrobial resistance, should get at least one third of the budget and some money should also be put aside for unforeseen challenges.

Programme managers must also avoid a repeat of the situation last year, when some €2 billion was taken out of Horizon 2020 and used as seed funding in a new investment fund.

Furthermore, the next programme should be more open to researchers outside the EU. “The mainstreaming of international cooperation in [Horizon 2020] is considered as not being successful and having low awareness and impact to achieve a sustainable position for Europe as a global player”, the paper says. Grants to non-EU countries overall have dropped under Horizon 2020.

The legislative proposal for FP9 is expected to be published in spring 2018, when Austria will hold the presidency of the EU. The programme is due to start on 1 January 2021.

“This means that for Austria it will be difficult to push its own interests during an important phase of the negotiations,” the researchers say. As a result, “It is important that Austria expresses its views and opinions in an early phase of the FP9 preparations.”

The think tank report will now be opened for broader discussion, starting with a stakeholder event on 10 October 2016, and including an online consultation on the Austrian European Research Area portal.

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Related subjects: Horizon 2020, FP9

Research Strategies The next Framework Programme
In October 2016, the Science|Network of universities, companies and innovation organisations gathered in Brussels to debate the future of EU R&D programmes. The result: A profusion of ideas, recommendations and warnings for the future of EU research and innovation.