HORIZON BLOG: European R&D policy newsbytes

13 Jan 2022 | Live Blog

Horizon Europe is well underway, but the world of European R&D policy goes well beyond the confines of the €95.5 billion R&D programme. EU climate, digital, agriculture and regional policies all have significant research and innovation components. National governments often come up with new R&D policies, decide to fund new research avenues, and set up international cooperation deals. This blog aims to keep you informed on all of that and more.

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You can read the full archive of this blog here.

 

Switzerland’s participation in EU’s research and education programmes should not be contingent on a resolution of the political row between the wo sides, the European University Association (EUA) says

The current standstill is hurting universities and research organisations both in Switzerland and the EU, and continued impasse could add up to losing billion of euros in research cooperation under Horizon Europe and students missing out on life-changing opportunities offered by Erasmus+, the association argued in a statement.  

The relationship between Switzerland and Brussels went sour this year after the Swiss ended talks on a new overarching bilateral treaty. Now, the EU wants an agreement ensuring Switzerland’s alignment with EU law, a mechanism for settling future disputes and the country’s financial contributions to the EU cohesion budget before it allows the country to participate in its research and education programmes. 

Until the issue is resolved, Swiss institutions can participate in Horizon projects, but no money can be dished out to Swiss researchers, a status quo that has left researchers and academics on both sides frustrated. 

“It is time to fully value the opportunities that association provides the EU and its partners and safeguard these opportunities from becoming entwined in other political questions,” the EUA said in the statement. 

 

A group of European health research organisations has urged the Europe Commission to finalise UK association to Horizon Europe, warning that the uncertainty now risks “jeopardising current and future research partnerships”.

UK association was agreed in theory in December 2020, but Brussels has delayed signing it off, maintaining that a wider dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol need to be resolved first.

“EU health research organisations have been working with UK partners on the understanding that they would shortly become full associate members,” said the European Health Stakeholder Group in a statement on 8 December.

“However, the absence of a clear timeframe for formalising UK association is now causing increasing concern,” said the organisation, which includes the Wellcome Trust, the European Brain Council, and the European Union of Medical Specialists.

“With the first Horizon Europe grant agreements nearing finalisation and new calls expected imminently, UK association must be formalised,” it says, and urges the European Commission to act “without further delay”.

 

The European University Association (EUA) is raising concerns about the decision to up Erasmus+ budgets every year and is calling for even annual distribution of the seven-year budget for student mobility.  

The Erasmus+ programme has seen a steep increase in funding for the next seven years, but this year’s €705 million budget for mobility grants remains lower than the €942 million spent in 2020. In the next seven years, the annual budget will keep increasing, with €971 million foreseen to be distributed in grants in 2022. 

The EUA says a more predictable budget would ease the burden of national agencies and universities that welcome students and distribute the EU funds.  

The call comes as organisations involved in the programme continue experiencing delayed payments from the EU budget, partly due to the delayed political decision on the funding and future of the €26.2 billion mobility programme. 

 

Researchers and innovators from Israel starting today can participate in the Horizon Europe research programme on the same terms as EU-based researchers.  

The country completed association talks in June with a deal that enters into force today. 

Israel has been part of EU research programmes since 1996 and was ranked third in terms of participation among non-EU countries in Horizon 2020.  

 

The European Commission today signed Horizon Europe association agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. 

Researchers from the five countries will now be able to participate in the EU’s €95.5 billion research programme on equal terms with their counterparts from EU member states. 

All five countries were associated to the previous programme Horizon 2020, receiving a total of €170 million in funding for research and innovation projects. 

 

The European Commission has signed the agreement granting Georgia association status to Horizon Europe, the EU’s €95.5 billion research and innovation programme.

"This association does not only benefit Georgian research, education and innovation organisations but also the EU and other associated countries, who are willing to cooperate with a dynamic and resourceful partner country,” said Mariya Gabriel, EU commissioner for innovation and research.

The agreement was signed today in Brussels by Gabriel and Mikhail Chkhenkeli, Georgia’s science minister.

 

The two satellites, which were launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Sunday from French Guiana, will strengthen the EU-supported global navigation service used by more than 2.3 billion devices worldwide.  

“This launch reinforces the current constellation and secures Europe’s strong position in the field of global navigation satellites and services,” said Thierry Breton, EU commissioner for the internal market.  

Five years after Galileo started up, there are now 28 satellites orbiting the globe to support navigation services for uses in mobile phones, mobility, synchronisation of energy grids, and distress location services.

 

The EU’s €300 billion Global Gateway initiative, designed to rival Chinese infrastructure investment, will include a role for research and innovation – although it is unclear whether the announcement amounts to any new research funding.

Brussels wants to fund projects in partner countries that will improve their digital connectivity, renewable energy, transport systems, healthcare, and research and education. The move is an explicit attempt to counter Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.

Responding to the trillions of dollars Beijing has poured into global infrastructure over the past decade, “the EU will work with partner countries to strengthen cooperation on research and innovation”, a communication from EU institutions said on December 1.  

The communication references existing programmes and their global research. The Erasmus+ mobility programme “has a strong international dimension,” it says. Horizon Europe, the EU’s new research framework, “offers researchers and innovators outside Europe the opportunity to participate in EU-funded collaborative research and innovation actions,” it adds.

 

Universities should play a bigger role in shaping EU’s data policy, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) said in a statement published today. 

The EU is now working on major changes to its digital laws and LERU says the impact on universities is not being taken into consideration.

According to LERU, the current approach to data policy puts too much focus on private companies, allowing them to define and steer universities’ digital architectures through hardware and software technologies. "A lack of clarity in relevant (EU) data legislation further complicates the picture," said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of LERU. "The current position is untenable and drastic action needs to be taken, both practically and in legislation, to restore universities’ independence of action and to help them deliver on their goals in support of knowledge creation for the benefit of society.”

The statement calls on stakeholders to draft measures that would ensure:

  1. Public storage and access to research data organised by universities and public infrastructures.
  2. Freely accessible university research publications, all underlying data, algorithms, metadata and software tools, with no embargo.
  3. University input and control over digital learning and research tools, such as productivity tools, learning environments, video conferencing. 

The full statement is available here.

 

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland this week launched the country’s first quantum computer in a bid to learn and develop expertise in next-generation computing.  

Built together with the quantum computing hardware startup IQM, the new 5 quantum-bit supercomputer is the first step towards the partners’ ambition to produce scalable and easier to manufacture quantum computers. By 2024, VTT and IQM aim to build a much more powerful 50-qubit quantum computer to secure Finland’s expertise in the field.  

While Finland ups ambition, the EU has been playing catch up with China and the US by boosting investments in quantum computing and setting up a €7 billion public-private supercomputing partnership under the Horizon Europe research programme.

 

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