03 Sep 2019   |   News

There is ‘clearly no competition’ between the EU’s two innovation agencies, says research chief

Jean-Eric Paquet denies the new Innovation Council will undercut the EU’s 11-year old Institute of Innovation and Technology, as he updates MEPs on preparations for Horizon Europe

Jean-Eric Paquet. Photo: Lysiane Pons, Science|Business

EU research chief Jean-Eric Paquet defended the move to create the European Innovation Council (EIC) when he appeared before MEPs on Tuesday, denying it will compete with the existing EU innovation agency, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

Ahead of the launch of the EU’s 2021-2027 Horizon Europe research programme, the director general of the European Commission’s research directorate told MEPs in the industry and research committee in Brussels how he plans to make EIC a success.

In response to an oft-repeated suggestion that Brussels risks creating a duplicate funding body that will undercut EIT, Paquet told MEPs, “There’s clearly no competition between the EIC and EIT.”

Although the EIT is currently under the control of the Commission’s education commissioner, the institute was factored into Horizon Europe planning. “The EIT is an absolute key player, achieving remarkable results,” Paquet said.

As to how the up-and-coming EIC would fit into the already competitive funding landscape, Paquet is confident that two funders will offer researchers and companies distinctive services.

The research chief said he expects cooperation between the two bodies will be “fluid and positive”.

The incoming administration could decide to redesign the directorates. For now though, “EIT is with one commissioner, EIC is with another commissioner,” said Paquet, “But our strategic planning means this is not a difficulty,” he said.

The EIC, due to formally open its doors in 2021, is slated to get €10.5 billion, or about 11 per cent of the total €94.1 Horizon Europe budget for 2021-2027. This will be divided between a “pathfinder” programme for high-risk, breakthrough ideas, and an “accelerator” for more developed ones. Its brief will be to provide fast and simple grants, loans, with leeway to take equity in some projects.

Critics of the move to create the EIC say that it risks significant overlap with the EIT, launched in 2008. A key negotiator for Horizon Europe, MEP Lieve Wierinck, last year predicted that the EIC would eventually supplant the EIT.

The entry of a new player comes as the EIT tries to move beyond criticism that it is too bureaucratic and a drain on EU money.

From its base in Budapest, the EIT funds collaborations between universities and industry in fields including climate change adaptation and sustainable energy. It also runs university courses in innovation, which is not a role foreseen for the EIC.

EIT has funding of €2.4 billion from Horizon 2020, and would get €3 billion from Horizon Europe under the commission’s proposal for the next EU budget.

Elsewhere, Paquet acknowledged that low success rates for EU funding competitions “remain a real challenge”, but that new technical fixes for grant agreements would be taken on board before rolling out the new programme.

A public consultation to help spark debate and new ideas on Horizon Europe will run until September 8, Paquet added.

 

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