HORIZON BLOG: European R&D policy newsbytes

15 Aug 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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Maryna Viazovska, a Ukrainian mathematician known for her work in sphere packing, has been named one of the four winners of this year’s Fields Medal, an award commonly viewed as a Nobel prize for mathematics.  

The three other winners are James Maynard, Oxford University, June Huh, Princeton University, and Hugo Duminil-Copin, the University of Geneva and Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques. Viazovska, currently a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, is the second woman to win the prize since the first medals were awarded in 1936.  

 

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Czech Science Foundation (GACR) have announced a new collaborative project between scientists from the University of California San Diego in the U.S. and the ELI Beamlines laser lab in the Czech Republic.

The project aims to leverage the capabilities of the ELI Beamlines multi-petawatt laser facility. Researchers hope these experiments can achieve a breakthrough by demonstrating efficient generation of dense gamma-ray beams.

The Extreme Light Infrastructure ERIC (ELI ERIC), the first international laser research infrastructure dedicated to the application of high-power and high-intensity lasers. ELI ERIC is a multi-site research infrastructure based on specialized and complementary facilities ELI Beamlines (Czech Republic) and ELI ALPS (Hungary).

 

The Extreme Light Infrastructure ERIC (ELI-ERIC) has named the current CEO of the Diamond Light Source, Andrew Harrison to coordinate the scientific and user programmes of the central European laser research consortium.

“Andrew’s experience at two of the world’s leading user facilities is essential for ELI as we open up to users,” said ELI director general Allen Weeks. “This is an important step for the European laser community as we can learn what has worked at other facilities and adapt it to our users and the way we operate.”

“ELI presents great opportunities with the highest aspirations to serve science and society,’ said Harrison. “To deliver on this promise will require coherence and close co-ordination of activities on all levels across the ELI sites.”

The Extreme Light Infrastructure is the first large-scale user facility based on lasers in the world, but has been ridden by diplomatic issues. Three labs were built in three countries Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania with EU structural funds. However, the Romanian facility entered into legal disputes with suppliers of a gamma beam and the project was delayed. At the moment, only the Czech and Hungarian facilities are part of ELI-ERIC, while the participation of the Romanian lab is still on hold. 

Harrison will transition from Diamond Light Source to ELI ERIC in autumn 2022.

 

The German Research Foundation (DFG) says it welcomes the discussion triggered by a journalistic investigation that unveiled joint cooperative projects between the Chinese military and universities and research institutes in Germany and in other EU countries.

The DFG says the investigation has triggered a broader discussion about the guidelines and rules for dual-use research. “Nonetheless, we currently see no reason to impose fundamental restrictions on our cooperation activities with China, let alone put a stop to them,” DFG president Katja Becker said after the funder’s 2022 annual meeting.

Becker added that, when it comes to academic cooperation with China, the German research community should do a better job at weighing the pros of international cooperation against the cons of dealing with researchers who may be under the political control of a regime that is pursuing its own national interests.

“China is already a technological leader in some areas and a key partner when it comes to tackling global challenges such as climate and health issues,” said Becker. “At the same time, German science must become more aware of the fact that China has to be seen as a competitor and a strategic rival, too.”

The DFG announced it is expanding cooperation to other Asian countries such as Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan and will deepen its contacts with partner organisations in Japan, South Korea and India.

 

New Zealand today signed a science agreement with the UK during a visit to Europe by prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

It will involve joint research projects, the development of new technologies, exchanges of scientists and innovation missions between businesses, according to a UK statement on the deal.

“This is another step in our science superpower mission to widen and deepen our post-Brexit global science programmes,” said science minister George Freeman.

Separately, New Zealand should start formal negotiations to join Horizon Europe in the autumn, according to a joint statement between Ardern and Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The two leaders said they expected association talks to be “concluded swiftly”.

 

The biggest research universities in the UK and Germany have signed a joint agreement pledging to make sure their work together is “not affected by politics”.

On June 30 the UK Russell Group and Germany’s U15 announced that they had inked a deal earlier in the month.

They said they would create a new framework to facilitate collaboration, which they said could also be deployed by other universities in other countries.

Their agreement comes as hopes fade that the UK will be able to associate to Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme. Association has been a victim of wider tensions between Brussels and London over the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

 

When it comes to technology sovereignty and international science collaboration, Finland’s IT Center for Science (CSC) wants to see changes in the second half of the EU’s €95.5 billion seven-year research programme.  

In a recent statement, CSC outlined its demands for the 2025-2027 Horizon Europe strategic plan: shifting the focus of the pathway to strategic autonomy from industrial leadership to research excellence and collaboration; stronger links between the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Education Area (EEA); a focus on climate impact of research; and building up international partnerships with like-minded partners, with a focus on continuing  collaboration with Switzerland and the UK, among others. 

On a more operational level, the CSC hopes to see Europe’s research infrastructure landscape recognised as a strategic asset as well as more convergence between the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) and the supercomputing partnership, EuroHPC. 

 

The Irish government is teaming up with industry to recruit 400 PhD students to undertake research in the country in a bid to attract and retain talent. 

The selected Irish and international students will receive a stipend of €28,000 to conduct research tackling major national and global challenges, including climate change and adaptation, pandemics, and water poverty. 

The government is set to invest millions of euros in the scheme over a number of years, to be matched by private investors.  

The first call for proposals aimed at higher education institutes is currently being draft and will open later this year.

The new talent scheme complements Ireland’s recently announced Impact 2030 research and innovation strategy. “This programme will establish Ireland as a globally renowned hub of talent development and knowledge creation," said Simon Harris, minister for further and higher education and research. 

 

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is set to fund eight new research groups with €31.4 million to boost artificial intelligence research in the country.  

The eight groups will cover AI uses for horticultural crops, biomedical data and chemical process engineering, among others.  

“The aim is for these Research Units [is] to engage and network with each other and with other national and international actors in the field – not only at their universities but also at various events,” said DFG President Katja Becker. 

The scheme is part of the DFG’s €90 million two-part AI initiative approved in 2019. The second part of the project funds 15 junior research groups aiming to attract the next generation of academics with a research focus on AI methods.  

 

The EU’s Horizon Europe research programme is ‘progressively’ turning into a source of funding for the European Commission’s political priorities, EuroTech Universities Alliance said in a recent statement.  

With the digital and green transition at the forefront of Europe’s future ambitions, EU policymakers are diverting money from bottom-up science to policy-driven projects, setting benchmarks for digital and green spending in the Horizon Europe budget. This has already led €1 billion from the research budget to be diverted to the European Chips Act, the Health and Emergency Response Agency and the Hydrogen Valley initiative, universities claim.  

The alliance demands more transparency in how the Horizon Europe budget is being spent and advocates for an additional set of indicators to be added to the Horizon Europe Dashboard to enable real-time assessment of the spending. 

 

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