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

29 Jul 2021 | Live Blog

In June, the European Commission has published the official work programme, detailing budgets and deadlines for calls over the first two years of Horizon Europe. This blog will keep you apprised on the rollout of the EU's €95.5 billion R&D programme.

Tips are welcome at [email protected]. You can read the full archive of this blog here.

 

A construction of a new research and data centre for climate change and adapted land management started today in Burkina Faso, with a €7 million investment from Germany.

The new competence centre will be part of the West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL), enabling it to become a leading regional climate change research institution in the region

Germany has invested over €120 million since 2012 in its partnership with 11 West African countries that are part of the WASCAL community. Most recently, the country invested €12.5 million in training programmes for climate protection and adaptation specialists.

“We need strong strategic partnerships on an international level in order to contain climate change and advance climate adaptation. The laying of the foundation stone for the new WASCAL climate competence center in Burkina Faso is an important sign of the joint commitment with our West African partners against climate change,” said German research minister Anja Karliczek.

 

The College of Commissioners today appointed Joanna Drake deputy director general in charge of implementation, impact and sustainable investment strategies at the European Commission’s directorate for research.

Drake will replace Patrick Child who will in turn take her position as deputy director general for mobility and environment at the directorate for environment, where she is among other initiatives responsible for resource-efficiency policies.

As deputy director general, Child managed the cancer mission and was responsible for climate action, clean energy and mobility technologies.

 

Switzerland is ready to start negotiations on its association to the EU research programme, Horizon Europe, state secretary Martina Hirayama told EU science ministers at an informal meeting organised by the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council on Monday.

The future of Switzerland’s association to Horizon Europe which allows the country to participate in the programme on an equal footing with the 27 EU member states is uncertain due to political disagreements relating to the country’s contributions to the EU budget.

Talks about potential associations are on hold at least until the Swiss parliament votes to unlock the country's €1.2 billion contribution to EU cohesion funds. Until then, Swiss researchers will be seen as third country participants if they apply for funding from the research programme, limiting their participation.

Hirayama stressed the importance of global research cooperation in view of future challenges during the meeting, and welcomed the Slovenian presidency’s ambition to get all EU member states to sign a non-binding agreement to do more in the fight against gender inequality in science.

 

The European Research Council, the EU’s fundamental research funder, is urging scientists to stress the importance of science and share ideas for improving it during the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The conference is a year-long series of debates where citizens of the EU share their ideas for shaping the future of the bloc, including potential changes to its policies and institutions. These public debates focus on a number of priority areas such as health, education and climate change.

Science is not one of the conference priorities, but the ERC encourages scientists to nonetheless stress the importance of fundamental research for the green and digital transitions and tackling future crises.

“Thus, we, the members of the ERC Scientific Council, urge Europe’s scientists and all those who believe in the positive power of science to make your voices heard and share your ideas on how we can improve science by all means available,” said a statement by the agency’s governing group.

Contributions can be made by submitting ideas online, organising events and getting involved with citizen panels during the conference.

“It is absolutely critical that Europe continues to support and promote the value of science and in particular to ensure that research remains an attractive career for its next generation,” the statement concluded.

 

Shift2Rail, a research partnership run by industry and the European Commission under the EU research programme Horizon 2020, is starting two new projects worth €2.34 million to help transform Europe’s railways.

One project will tackle digital automation for train couplers which connect parts of the train together, while another one will explore how to make rail more attractive to stakeholders. “The new projects will contribute to improving rail freight automation - a much needed solution for rail freight in Europe,” said Carlo Borghini, executive director of Shift2Rail.

Shift2Rail has invested a total of €0.8 billion in the last five years. The member states are currently negotiating the terms of the partnership’s successor under the new research programme Horizon Europe, which will continue the mission of digitalising and greening Europe’s rails starting next year.

 

EU start-up fund, the European Innovation Council, is looking for six programme managers to manage topic-specific portfolios of funded projects.

The new recruits will join a team of four programme managers already handling portfolios in biotechnology and health, med-tech and medical devices, materials for energy and environment, and energy systems.

Anyone is free to apply but the agency is seeking “recognised experts in emerging science-and-technology areas, with a visionary drive to turn new technological breakthroughs into relevant and responsible innovations for Europe and for the world.” Women are especially encouraged to apply. While merit will be the deciding factor in the competition, in case of a tie, priority will be given to women candidates.

 

In a proposal put forward by the EU Council, member states want the Horizon Europe budget for 2022 to be cut by €316 million.

The European Commission’s initial proposal had allocated nearly €12.2 billion for the research and innovation programme.

Member states also propose the budgets for Digital Europe and InvestEU shrink by €50 million and €45.5 million respectively. The total cuts proposed for 2022 amount to €1.4 billion less than what the Commission had proposed in June.

“The EU Council chose to continue its intellectual and political suicide by cutting innovation funding while increasingly agreeing to policies that will require incredible innovation efforts,” said German MEP Christian Ehler in a statement posted on Twitter.

Ehler is co-rapporteur for Horizon Europe and has previously criticised member states for failing to allocate €120 billion for the research and innovation programme, to be spent between 2021 and 2027. After lengthy negotiations, EU institutions agreed on a €95.5 billion budget in December last year.

The German MEP warned that additional cuts applied to the 2022 budget are not in line with ambitious policies in climate change that require significant investments in research and innovation.

“Postponing spending to later years does not make sense as we need research to start now, in order to have technologies ready and implemented by 2030 to achieve our objectives,” said Ehler. “Rather than postponing spending, including respending of decommitted research funds, we should mobilise as much funds as possible now,” he added.

 

Germany can now ratify the agreement on the unitary patent and unified patent court, a common European patent system, after a top court rejected two challenges to the bill.

The agreement, which is backed by all EU member states expect for Spain and Poland, is set to unify patent rules in the block, making the protection and enforcement of patents in Europe cheaper.

The treaty to create an EU-wide patent court dates back to 2013 but after a successful deal following years of negotiations, its implementation was halted by legal challenges in Germany and Brexit, which led the UK to withdraw.

Once operational, the new rules will enable cheaper and more efficient uniform patent protection in all participating EU member states, including Germany which accounts for  40% of European patent approvals.

 

Venture capital firm OTB Ventures is set to invest €50 million in early-stage technology companies with R&D components.

The fund, which will finance the growth of 15 companies in fields such as cybersecurity, space, fintech and robotic automation, is backed by the European Investment Fund’s pilot programme for encouraging venture funds to secure follow-on investments for companies in their portfolio.

“We need more funding options for promising technology start-ups in Europe, which create new jobs and help secure our competitive edge. I look forward to seeing many more such examples in action,” said Commission vice president for Valdis Dombrovskis.

 

The European Commission is trying to tackle gender inequality in the European start-up landscape with the help of a new pilot programme providing funding and mentoring to female-led start-ups around Europe.

Launched today, the pilot will offer grants of up to €75,000 as well as coaching and mentoring services through the European Innovation Council for up to 50 promising deep-tech start-ups. The first call, open to companies founded or co-founded by women, is now live and will close on 10 November.

“Through Women TechEU, we want to increase the number of women-led start-ups and create a fairer and more prosperous European deep-tech ecosystem,” said EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel. “We believe that today’s support to deep-tech female founders will increase their chances of success and boost the overall European innovation ecosystem by drawing in more female talent.”

 

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