HORIZON BLOG: European R&D policy newsbytes

17 May 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.

 

The European Commission will be accepting nominations from the European research community for new members of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Scientific Council until 6 May. 

The Scientific Council is the EU’s fundamental research funder’s governing body. Its members are appointed for four year terms, renewable once. In the next year, the Commission is looking to replace almost a quarter of the member as their mandates draw to a close. 

Following the Commission’s last search, three new members were appointed last week. They are  Chryssa Kouveliotou, professor at the George Washington University in Washington D.C., László Lovász, professor emeritus at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and Giovanni Sartor, professor at the University of Bologna and at the European University Institute in Florence. 

 

France is looking to nuclear to level up its carbon neutrality ambitions as it launches a €1 billion programme to develop novel nuclear fission and fusion reactors and integrate better waste management.  

The first €500 million call launched this week and looks to fund several projects at different stages of maturity.  

The announcement follows President Emmanuel Macron’s reveal of a €2 billion strategy for developing disruptive renewable and nuclear energy technologies. It aims to bring France closer to the EU-wide goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and enable the country’s nuclear systems to compete with other global leaders, such as United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.  

While France bets on nuclear, not all EU countries agree that it is green and safe enough. After year-long discussions, Germany decided to shut down all of its nuclear power reactors by the end of 2022, prompted by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. It is unclear whether Berlin will try to revert that policy to protect its energy sector from the shock of a potential embargo on Russian gas.

 

The European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), which aids  policymaking with the help of independent assessments of new technologies, has selected Christian Ehler to be its new chair.

Ehler was the Parliament’s rapporteur for the Horizon Europe research programme. He replaces fellow MEP Eva Kaili as the chair and is joined by two new vice-chairs, MEPs Ivo Hristov and Ivars Ijabs.

STOA is currently looking into issues such as Horizon Europe’s move towards more widespread lump sum funding, AI in healthcare, genome editing in humans and crops, privacy and security of 5G, green tech, data governance, digital tools in the workplace, among many others.

 

The new expert group is looking into the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns may have had on women researchers’ careers and productivity.

The investigation will feed into policy recommendations aimed at mitigating the negative consequences, set to be released in the beginning of 2023.

 

The European Association of Research and Technology Organisations issued a warning that a proliferation of new EU R&D programmes could add unwanted complexity for grant recipients.

In the Commission’s latest seven-year budget plan, a range of new programmes and agencies were created that can fund R&D – and operate separately from, or in collaboration with, the EU’s flagship €95.5 billion Horizon Europe programme.

In a statement 8 Mach, the trade group for some of Europe’s biggest research organisations said “the multiplication of independent EU RD&I funding programmes having each a different set of rules of participation will bring challenges to both the EU institutions, member states as well as beneficiaries (i.e. Horizon Europe, Defence, Space, Health, Digital & Regional programmes). This will bring a new level of complexity for beneficiaries to manage the participation in each of these funds. We expect this will be a key challenge the European institutions, member states and the beneficiaries will have to face together.”

The Commission has been promising improved “synergies” between the different programmes, but EARTO isn’t the first group to question whether the new programmes – though welcomed by the research community – could add to the accounting complexities of dealing with EU programmes.

The EARTO statement also praised some of the Horizon Europe contractual provisions for simplifying grant paperwork – such as permitting big research organisations to use their own, usual method of accounting for personnel and certain other costs. But they also called for some further changes to simplify the way personnel costs are calculated.

 

The EU today signed off the seven-year InvestEU programme, which will invest €26.2 billion in innovative projects bidding to attract at least €372 billion in additional public and private investment by 2027. 

InvestEU is a major funder of private research, innovation and digitisation projects, with a €6.6 billion investment foreseen by 2027. There’s a big focus on SMEs; and all funded projects should address investments gaps and help meet EU policy objectives. 

 

The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities has proposed definitions for seven key terms to be used when discussing gender equality, diversity and inclusion in its member universities.  

The terms include bias, diversity, equity, gender mainstreaming, diversity mainstreaming, inclusion and intersectionality.  

“To facilitate culture change towards gender equality and diversity, we need to have a common understanding of what we mean by key terms such as diversity, inclusion and intersectionality,” said Jan Palmowski, secretary-general of The Guild. 

 

Rectors of nine universities in the Coimbra Group urged bigger efforts to improve research careers, making them more accessible and attractive to researchers of all genders. 

“We need to make research careers attractive and compatible with a good work-life balance also for women; only in this way will we make it possible for everyone, regardless of gender and background, to fulfil their potential and contribute to the research and innovation we need to meet the societal challenges we all are facing,” said the rectors’ statement

The call comes on 8 March, international women’s day.

 

Switzerland, which has been left out of the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme, is set to launch a funding scheme for its start-ups that do not have access to the European Innovation Council’s Accelerator programme. 

The Accelerator is a €7 billion EU fund which offers promising tech start-ups grants and equity investments. It’s only available to companies in EU member states and Horizon Europe associated countries, a title that the EU has withheld from Switzerland due to broader political disagreements. 

The legislation for the new scheme will kick in on 15 April, after which the Swiss Innovation Agency will be able to open calls for proposals. 

 

The seven Western governments in an international body coordinating management of the Arctic region announced they are suspending meetings with Russia, because of the Ukraine invasion. The announcement could affect collaborative Arctic research.

Russia currently holds the rotating chair of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organisation started in 1996 by the eight countries with Arctic territories to coordinate use of the region. In a joint statement, the other seven countries on 3 March said that due to Russia’s “flagrant violation” of international law in Ukraine, their representatives will no longer travel to Russia and are “temporarily pausing participation in all meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies”.

The Council  has no budget of its own, but the member-countries meet periodically to coordinate policies for search and rescue, habitat protection, indigenous peoples and environmental research and monitoring. In 2017 a special scientific protocol was added specifying how the countries are to grant access to each others’ territories and civilian labs for research. The seven western countries are the US, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

 

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