Any other business? Horizon delays not on research ministers’ radar

25 May 2021 |

Agenda for first meeting of research ministers since last September – and first since member states approved Horizon Europe legislation - does not feature discussion of repeated delays in fully launching the programme

EU commissioner for research and innovation, Mariya Gabriel. Photo: European Commission

Research ministers will not discuss the ongoing delays to Horizon Europe at the EU Council meeting on Friday, a senior EU diplomat has confirmed.

Adoption of work programmes laying out the timelines, budget and scope of dozens of calls for proposals over the next two years is being held up by a dispute between the Commission and a majority of member states in the EU Council over the participation of Israel, Switzerland and the UK in quantum and space research projects.

The Commission wants to ban these third countries from these projects, while member states would like to continue cooperation with long standing research partners.

Because of the row, the adoption of Horizon Europe work programmes has been postponed until the end of May, but there could be further delays. The Commission is still finalising documents.

The Commission has not responded to a question from Science|Business on when the work programmess will be adopted.

In the meantime, EU commissioner for research and innovation Mariya Gabriel is speaking at Horizon Europe “launch events” in all member states. The latest one was hosted by Italy on Tuesday.

The Commission has opened calls for proposals for the European Research Council and the European Innovation Council, the EU’s new innovation scale-up agency, but the rest of the €95.5 billion programme remains in limbo.  

On Friday, other matters will top the Council’s agenda.

Research ministers will have a working lunch to discuss national pandemic recovery plans and how member states will be able to use recovery money to finance their participation in Horizon Europe public private partnerships.

Ministers will vote on a general approach for establishing EuroHPC, the EU’s joint undertaking in supercomputing, and will adopt Council conclusions on improving researchers’ careers in Europe.

This is the first formal council meeting of research ministers since September 2020 when member states approved the Horizon Europe legislation.

Member states will also debate the renewal of the European Research Area (ERA), a 20 year-old plan to create a single market for research in Europe. The Council has asked ministers to prepare statements and exchange views on what policies will shape the renewed ERA over the next decade.

A further discussion will consider new incentives to make science careers in Europe more attractive,in order to retain researchers.

The Commission published a draft plan for revamping ERA in September last year, putting forward 14 key actions between 2021 and 2024. The Commission hopes member states will agree to boost national R&D spending, to develop common industrial technology plans and support the development of research careers.

During the meeting, the outgoing Portuguese presidency of the Council will update ministers on progress on the EU’s participation in the public private partnership on metrology and the steps ahead for the regulation establishing the joint undertakings under Horizon Europe.

Slovenia will also present an R&D agenda for its upcoming presidency, due to start 1 July.

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