Leading legislator on Horizon Europe sets out his vision for the programme

19 Jul 2018 | News

German MEP Christian Ehler wants more control over the new European Innovation Council and to boost the budget for research related to creative industries

MEP Christian Ehler. Photo: European Parliament

A draft report by MEP Christian Ehler calls for an increase in the Horizon Europe research programme budget from €94.1 to €120 billion and for more flesh to be put on the proposal, which has been criticised by member states as not adequately developed.

Ehler is one of two lead rapporteurs responsible for steering the European Commission’s proposal for Horizon Europe through Parliament. The other is Romanian MEP Dan Nica, who is expected to present his own report on simplifying EU research programmes. Both MEPs sit on the Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

“We want to contribute to [EU Research Commissioner] Moedas’ ambitions, but we want to shape things in a more precise way, otherwise we may find that member states are not keen on new funding adventures,” Ehler told Science|Business. His 230 amendments to the 2021 – 2027 Horizon Europe programme are due to be published next week.

Space on EIC board for academics

The draft text outlines several additions and modifications to the Commission’s initial proposal, published on 7 June. Ehler will negotiate alongside Nica with fellow MEPs, member states, research stakeholders and Commission officials to get the legislation over the line.

In his report, Ehler calls for broader representation for researchers on the board that will run the new European Innovation Council (EIC), saying it must include economists and academic experts on innovation policy, alongside start-up heads, industrial leaders and investors, to oversee the awarding of grants and purchase of equity in technology companies.

“Successful entrepreneurs know well what works in their sectors, but they probably lack a horizontal view of other fields,” said Ehler. “We need to inject ‘permanent learning’ in there.”

In addition, Ehler makes several new budget demands. The Commission’s allocation of Horizon Europe money devotes the biggest share of funding, €52.7 billion, to a series of projects to tackle climate change, boost digital technologies, improve food, handle other ‘global challenges’ and boost industrial competitiveness. The balance will go to fund fundamental science and innovation.

Ehler sees unexploited potential in design and creative industries, which his report says are a “driver for growth and are in a strategic position to trigger innovative spill overs in other industrial sectors, such as tourism, retail, and digital technologies and engineering.”

The programme should make space for, “at least €500 million into research activities in the cultural and creative field, including €100 million for the creation of a “Cultural Heritage Cloud”.

The cloud, described as a “museum collaboration space”, will improve the flow of expertise and skills such as restoring art works. Horizon Europe should also contribute to “digital and physical technologies” with at least €16 billion, another amendment says.

The Commission has called for €10 billion for research into food and natural resources, but an amendment in Ehler’s report leaves the budget for this unspecified.

His report also reasserts the role of the Budapest-based European Innovation and Technology Institute (EIT), which some see as likely to be overshadowed by the EIC.

“The EIT is already a well-established one-stop shop for innovation in Europe,” the report says. “To deliver on expected innovation impact for citizen, all Horizon Europe instruments must interlock and not block. Current duplications between the EIT and EIC need to be settled.”

The EIC board and the EIT governing board “should produce joint recommendations whenever appropriate.”

Meanwhile, the European Research Council’s proof of concept competition should be opened to non-ERC grantees if they comply with all eligibility criteria of the basic research funder, the report says.  

Keep partnerships

Ehler’s report says that all “well-established partnerships”, such as the joint technology initiatives, “will be considered for continuation beyond 2020”. In contrast, the Commission talks of rationalisation for these partnerships.

Ehler also wants to see the graphene flagship, human brain project and the quantum flagship continue. At present the future of these billion-euro projects is unclear, with different options appearing among the hundreds of pages of draft documents for Horizon Europe. 

Some Commission officials are calling for a switch away from flagships towards “missions”, a twist on the funding formula, which officials argue could result in more targeted research goals and gain more public support.

“I think we can adjust flagships, but I don’t agree they necessarily have to become missions,” said Ehler.  

All MEPs can propose changes to Horizon Europe before 6 September. A compromise phase follows, where amendments are whittled down.

In the previous legislative cycle, there were around 3,000 amendments for the current research programme, Horizon 2020, and the compromise period lasted seven months.

Parliament expects fewer amendments this time because there is little structural change between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. The target is two months for the compromise phase. 

Eventually, a consolidated Parliament position will emerge and is expected to be voted in the ITRE committee before the end of the year. The schedule is important, officials say, for keeping on track with the Commission’s aim of fast-tracking legislation before European elections next May.

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up