HORIZON BLOG: European R&D policy newsbytes

03 Feb 2023 | 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 Research Council (ERC) has awarded €636 million in starting grants. The money will go to younger scientists with a PhD degree and two to seven years of experience who want to launch their own projects and form their teams.

The winners will carry out their projects at universities and research centres scattered across 26 countries in Europe. Of the entire pool of projects, 81 will be rolled out in Germany, 40 in the Netherlands and 39 in France.

The ERC has also announced 70 winning projects that are based in the UK, however the applicants can make use of the grant only if Horizon Europe association talks between London in Brussels are finalised before the grant agreements are signed. Winners also have the option to transfer their project to an eligible country, an EU member state or a country associated in Horizon Europe.

More details about the grants are available here.

 

The European Commission has appointed today Salla Saastamoinen as deputy director-general of its science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The JRC employs scientists to carry out research and provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policymaking.

Salla Saastamoinen has had a 25-year career in the Commission, including 21 years in the directorate-general for justice and consumers, DG JUST. Before joining the Commission in 1996, she was a partner in a business law firm, a researcher in law and author of several books on environmental law and EU law.

 

The EU and India have agreed to work more closely together on high performance computing, weather simulation and quantum computing. 

On 21 November DG CONNECT and India's Ministry of Electronics and IT signed an "intent of cooperation" at a virtual ceremony. 

It is hoped the agreement allow joint breakthroughs in biomolecular medicine, Covid-19 therapeutics, climate change mitigation, natural disaster prediction, and quantum computing, using both European and Indian supercomputers. 

 

The UK government has pledged nearly half a billion pounds in extra research and development funding to compensate for ongoing exclusion from the EU's Horizon Europe programme.

Of this, £200 million will go to boosting research infrastructure, while £100 million will go to universities. There's also £42 million for the nuclear fusion industry, and £84 million for the Joint European Torus, an experimental fusion site near Oxford. 

This injection of money comes from underspending on the budget set aside to support the UK's association to Horizon Europe, according to Martin Smith, head of the policy lab at the Wellcome Trust, a private research funder. 

Announcing the funding, UK science minister George Freeman reiterated that the UK "cannot wait forever" for association. "Our priority is to invest in the UK’s R&D sector, whether through association or, if delays continue, alternative measures," he wrote

 

The European Parliament has adopted a report by German MEP Christian Ehler on the implementation of the European Innovation Council (EIC), the EU’s new vehicle for scaling-up innovative start-ups.

The report calls on he European Commission to “have an open dialogue on the future of the EIC,” Ehler said in a statement on Tuesday.

Ehler has previously criticised the Commission for delays in implementing the equity component of the EIC and threatened to defund the programme in 2023. He later withdrew the budget threat.

 

Price increases for natural gas, district heating and electricity continue to pose enormous challenges for German universities despite ambitious energy-saving measures and promises to put a cap on prices.

The general assembly of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has called on the federal and state-level decision makers to take further steps to lift the financial burden posed by rising energy prices on universities.

HRK President Peter-André Alt said universities will benefit from a recent agreement between the federal government and the länder on an emergency aid package for the purchase of natural gas and district heating, including a gas and electricity price cap that will take effect next year in spring.

“It is very gratifying and an important signal of recognition that the December emergency aid will benefit all universities, regardless of size or profile,” said Alt. “Now the members of the Bundestag are called upon to take into account the role and special needs of the universities in the legal definition of further measures," he added.

 

Taiwan has this week put forward a proposal to increase tax breaks on technology companies’ research and development, in a bid to maintain its status as one of the global leaders in semiconductor manufacturing. 

The proposal involves raising the corporate income tax break from 15% to 25%. The change must still be approved by parliament with the government hoping it can be passed by the beginning of next year. 

Several of Taiwan’s competitors in semiconductor manufacturing, including the US, Japan and Korea, are investing heavily in the sector to ensure supply in the face of global supply chain disruptions, linked primarily to the Covid pandemic. 

The US’ €52.7 billion CHIPS and Science Act was introduced in August this year, for example.

The European Commission is also trying to push through Europe’s own Chips act, but experts and members of the European Parliament have criticised it for focusing more on manufacturing rather than investments in R&D to create a new generation of high-end chips. 

 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has opened a new office in Luxembourg focusing on the crossroads between technology and humanitarian issues.  

The idea of the humanitarian office for cyberspace is to carry out research on humanitarian issues linked to technology – think hacking, disinformation, online scams, etc.. The office will also look into how technology can support those in need, for example, information sharing among those affected by conflict, connecting people to programmes that help them secure their data, mobile phone cash transfer programmes, etc. 

Martin Schüepp, ICRC’s director of operations, said the objective is to “ensure that digital technologies do not expose people to further risk and that digital assistance programmes effectively create positive outcomes for people in conflict”. 

“This new office will advance technical solutions that can be safely deployed and that conform to our fundamental neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity, including in a digital space,” he said. 

The office’s opening was supported by Luxembourg’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. 

 

The ITER Council met this week (16-17 November) to provide its latest review on the ITER fusion mega-project in the south of France. 

The site for the nuclear fusion research and engineering site has been under development since 2007 and its First Plasma machine is scheduled at the end of December 2025. It will be the world’s largest experimental fusion facility when it is completed. 

But the latest review, headed up by the ITER Council’s new director general Pietro Barabaschi, who was appointed in September this year, has stated the need for a new timeline to complete the project. 

The project is struggling with acquiring special components due to global supply chain issues and the fact that Russia is one of the key partners in the venture. 

We previously reported that the The European Court of Auditors said in a report that Russian involvement in the project presents a risk of further delays to the venture. 

However, a spokesman for ITER said that the Russian government has provided assurances on their commitment to the project. 

The latest review, the 31st of its kind, noted the continued progress on the construction works, but warned that there was a need for “extensive repairs” on key components, which the Council has urged the director general to assess so that repair work can begin as soon as possible. 

It also noted the continued commitments of the member states involved in the project, which are China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the EU, which is contributing roughly half the costs of construction. 

 

The Canadian government has announced on 16 November more than CA$1 billion (about €725 million) in funding to support researchers in different fields and stages of careers across the country.

The investment is made through a number of different funding programs. Among them, the Research Support Fund and Incremental Project Grants will provide more than CA$427 million (€308 million) to help 142 institutions advance their research environment.

Since 2016, the Canadian government has provided more than $14 billion in new resources to support science and research. 

 

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