HORIZON BLOG: Research and innovation in the new seven-year budget

On 2 February, the European Commission announced the official launch of Horizon Europe, the EU’s next R&D programme.

But, before any of the €95.5 billion budget can start flowing, there remain many administrative and legal steps still to complete by April, when the Commission aims to launch the first formal call for grant applications.

This blog will keep you apprised of all the details as they unfold.

Tips are welcome at [email protected].

You can read the full archive of this blog here.

 

The European Parliament’s culture and education committee (CULT) today adopted the regulation of the EU’s new €26 billion education programme Erasmus+, ahead of the Parliament’s final vote on the programme next week.

The negotiations on the details of the programme were finalised in December. The final agreement promises to benefit 12 million people in Europe, three times more than its predecessors and ensure quicker access for those coming from disadvantage backgrounds, such as participants with disabilities, those coming from remote locations and migrants.

The Commission launched the programme in March ahead of its legal approval, and the first calls are now open. Once the programme is fully adopted following next week's vote, the money can start flowing to finance selected projects around Europe.

"Although the programme is not as financially ambitious as the CULT committee would desire, it will enjoy an impressive 60% budget increase over the 2014-2020 budget,” said Elżbieta Kruk, shadow rapporteur for the Parliament’s Eurosceptic group, the ECR. “The new Erasmus+ programme will reach more people than before, many of whom would have been inaccessible via the previous programme. It is a big step forward.”

 

Germany on Friday revealed its plan for boosting high-performance computing capacity in the country, including over €300 million investment for the next four years.

The funding will be used expand the country's supercomputing infrastructure and launch its first exascale computer, which can perform over a billion billion operations per second.

The hope is that boosted infrastructure and massive computing power will help scientists conduct research, enable the creation of complex simulations of the climate, human organs and pharmaceutical ingredients as well as power artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis.

The first calls will launch this summer.

 

The EU start-up fund, the European Innovation Council, announced it will not be able to assess new project proposal for its €1 billion Accelerator call in time for the 16 June deadline and asked entrepreneurs to refrain from submitting new proposals until 22 June.

The call for EIC Accelerator opened a month ago, and start-ups were invited to submit short pitches. Successful candidates were then expected to be invited to submit full-length proposals mid-June. However, any companies that submit short pitches after 7 May will now not be able to secure funding until the second cut-off date, 6 October.

At first, the problem appeared to be technical, however, the European Commission has since clarified that submissions were frozen due to the fact no more applications can be assessed in time for the deadline.

This comes just two weeks after the EIC extended the cut-off date by one week, to 16 June. 

Innovators on Twitter were not happy with the decision. “[…] this means that [more than 1 billion] could be uneffectively invested in innovation and startups this year. A very bad decision that damages the already questioned reputation of the EIC,” tweeted David Arias, founder of Strata.

 

The European Commission has pre-selected the players for ‘Team EU’ in the upcoming first edition of the International Cybersecurity Challenge, which brings teams from around the world to compete in a series of challenges such as web application and system exploitation, cryptography, reverse engineering, hardware challenges, forensics and escape rooms.

A total of 36 players between the ages 18 and 26 from 17 EU countries were pre-selected. The contestants will now undergo online and offline training in Estonia before 15 are selected to form the final ‘Team EU’ in October.

The EU is currently working on stepping up its cybersecurity ambition but for the efforts to succeed will have to address a massive skill shortage in the field. “The young people selected to represent the EU at the first International Cybersecurity Challenge will be part of the solution and our future workforce and hope that the EU can continue to excel in cybersecurity”, said European Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas.

 

Vandewiele, a Belgian technology company active in the textiles sector, is set to receive its second €100 million loan from the European Investment Bank to boost its investments in research, innovation and development.

The new tranche of funding will support ongoing digitalisation efforts, development of new innovative products and the company’s efforts to lower its environmental footprint.

 

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel today met with a new expert group on equality in investments in education and training to identify policies that could boost education and training outcomes in Europe.

The group will focus on the quality of teachers and training, education infrastructure and digital education. By the end of the year, it is expected to present an interim report on how the EU can best innovate its education landscape. The final report, which will contribute to the Commission's aims to create a single market for education, the European Education Area, by 2025, is foreseen at the end of 2022.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how critical teachers, schools and universities are to our society,” said Gabriel. “Today, we have the chance of rethinking the EU's education and training sector, and put it back at the core of our economies and societies. Therefore, we need clarity and solid evidence on how to best invest in education.”

 

Starting today, the EU supercomputing research partnership, EuroHPC, will drive its €8 billion mission to pool European and national resources to procure and deploy world-class supercomputers from new headquarters in Luxembourg.

The inauguration of the headquarters is the latest step in launching EuroHPC under the new research programme, Horizon Europe. Next, the Council is expected to finalise its regulation to enable a €8 billion investment in the partnership, which hopes to help Europe secure a place in the global supercomputer race.

“Supercomputing is key for the digital sovereignty of the EU,” said EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton at the inauguration event. “High Performance Computers are crucial to harness the full potential of data — notably for AI applications, health research and industry 4.0. We are massively investing in this cutting-edge technology for Europe to remain ahead of the global tech race.

 

The European Commission today launched a public consultation on the European Health Data Space, a tool for facilitating health data sharing in the EU for research, treatment, diagnosis and prevention.

Access to data is key to enabling health innovation but the EU’s current data protection rules are currently throwing up barriers to data sharing. The new health data space will seek to create a single market for public and volunteered health data. The Commission is asking stakeholders to send in their ideas for the new tool by 26 July.

 

The European Commission today published a study on novel genome editing techniques, ruling that the EU genetically modified organism (GMO) regulation is outdated to deal with them. The Commission now plans to review EU policy on plants derived using certain new genomic techniques.

The current GMO legislation was adopted in 2001. Since then, many new gene editing techniques have emerged, some of which are already on the market outside the EU. The research community has been calling for a debate and review of the legislation on genome editing, to ensure better monitoring of regulatory and scientific developments in the field.

The Commission’s latest report ruled there are legal uncertainties when it comes to novel genomic techniques and suggested that regulation should be adapted in line with scientific and technological progress, in particular, when it comes to plant mutagenesis, a technique that does not require insertion of genetic material, and cisgenesis, the rearrangement of genetic material of the same organism.

Now, the Commission will hold debates with EU policymakers and other stakeholders, and start working on an impact assessment of the potential changes. There is not concrete timeline,  “but we have come to a point where a lot of knowledge and intelligence went into this study, and it’s not the moment to sit on these findings,” an EU official said.

 

The new cohesion funding tool for innovation, the Interregional Innovation Investments (I3), should have a stronger focus on technology infrastructures and their role in enabling innovation development and market uptake, according to the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations and the Vanguard Initiative, which unites Europe’s industrial regions.

The I3 is a newly-introduced instrument in the the new seven-year EU budget period, aimed at supporting interregional partnerships delivering innovation and reinforcing globally competitive EU value chains. The two organisations believe technology infrastructures will play a key role in allowing SMEs to demonstrate and pilot their activities funded through the programme, and therefore should be given stronger focus in it.

The joint paper also suggests the funding for I3 projects should be given as a lump-sum, lowering the administrative burden and risks for the beneficiaries, calls on the Commission to clarify potential issues when it comes to state aid rules, and asks for a timeline for the implementation of the tool.

 

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