Virtually all current joint undertakings are slated to continue in some form, alongside new partnerships on driverless cars, space, and clean steel
A new list is circulating of 44 possible subjects for partnerships with governments, industry and public sector organisations, to be funded in the 2021 – 2027 Horizon Europe R&D programme.
The list, and accompanying documents prepared by the European Commission are not dated, but appear to be from a meeting held 2-3 May. Nevertheless, it is longer and more detailed than an earlier-reported list, dated 8 May, covering two areas in Horizon Europe. The longer list suggests new partnerships on self-driving cars and on space systems, and elaborates their structure and purpose. However, most subjects are successors to already-existing partnerships.
Research partnerships, particularly those involving industry, consume many billions in EU research funds. With the current Horizon 2020 programme finishing at the end of 2020, there is currently no confirmation of what partnerships will be funded in Horizon Europe. However, the new information hints at how the commission’s plans are shaping up.
Read the Commission documents
Although the legislation underpinning Horizon Europe is mostly settled, partnerships will be designed as part of a lengthy Strategic Planning process, in which successive drafts of the implementation plan will be thrashed out between the commission and a committee of member states. That committee held its first meeting on 2-3 May, which is where this list appears to have been presented.
New partnership on self-driving cars
The list proposes a new self-driving cars partnership under the heading, “Mobility and Safety for Automated Road Transport.” This is marked as a possible joint undertaking, a partnership with non-EU organisations (usually industry) set up by a dedicated EU regulation. The list suggests that the partnership would include industry, but does not mention academia.
An accompanying document says that the partnership would run 2021-2030. Horizon Europe will expire at the end of 2027, but it is not that unusual for joint undertakings to have a longer life span than the research programme.
5G and 6G
Another possible new partnership on “Smart Networks and Services,” would focus on next generation Internet services, building on an existing public private partnership for 5G networks.
A document on this proposed partnership puts an emphasis on competitiveness and says the partnership would focus on deploying 5G and even 6G networks. Given that “the current industrial target for 5G deployment is early 2020,” the document says, “the target work goes clearly beyond 5G and beyond 5G boundaries.” It therefore says the partnership would begin in 2021 and be expected to deliver “in the 2025-2030 range.”
Most joint undertakings to return
Virtually all of the current crop of joint undertakings have obvious successors in the list, albeit with slightly tweaked priorities and titles.
The only one not mentioned is Fusion4Energy (F4E), which manages the EU’s role in the ITER international fusion energy project. That might not be significant, since F4E is essentially just a vehicle for the EU’s contribution to ITER. As such, F4E has relatively little to do with the research programme that funds it, so the fact it is not on the list does not mean the EU is cutting its support for ITER.
It comes as no surprise that EuroHPC, on high-performance computing, is on the list, since it only launched this year, and the Bio-Based Industries joint undertaking had already been tipped for renewal in a previous list of 18 potential partnerships.
For every partnership marked as a potential joint undertaking – including those that are obvious replacements – the list indicates it could also take a different form, such as a partnership based on a contract or memorandum of understanding , rather than a new regulation.
New batteries partnership
The list also includes proposals for a new partnership on batteries. This was expected, because the partnership is already coming together as an Important Project of Common European Interest, which is led by member states, and the commission is expected to approve its exemption from normal state-aid rules soon.
Some other partnerships look set to continue in more-or-less their current form too, such as the partnership on Photonics, which currently involves the industry association Photonics21. The list also proposes merging existing partnerships on big data and robotics into a single partnership on “AI, data and robotics,” involving industry, academia, end-users, and civil society.
Two other proposed partnerships are “global competitive space systems” and clean steel. However, there is less accompanying information on these two than there is for self-driving cars.
The short description for the space partnership says it would include industry and national governments. Its focus would be on advances in “critical space systems R&I roadmaps” such as “reusability, in orbit demonstration, assembly and manufacturing.”
Clean steel would focus on low-carbon steel manufacturing. There is already a Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS), which is totally separate from EU research programmes and is not funded out of the EU budget.