25 Feb 2021

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.

 

Speaking at the Science|Business annual conference, EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel said she will present a new strategy for international cooperation on research and innovation, to replace current rules which were first put in place in 2012.

“Horizon Europe will remain open to international cooperation, but at the same time, geopolitical changes are real, and we should not be naïve,” said Gabriel. “We should use the new power to limit cooperation or sensitive technologies."

According to Gabriel, about a quarter of all Horizon Europe calls will be also open for international cooperation. 

 

The Science|Business annual conference has kicked off with EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel announcing when the first funding calls in Horizon Europe will be launched.

According to Gabriel, €120 million will be made available in March for Covid-19 research through an emergency procedure. The European Research Council will also publish its first call for proposals under Horizon Europe later this week.

In March, the Commission will finalise the Horizon Europe strategic planning, said Gabriel. While in May and June, it will finalise implementation plans for the research missions.

All work programmes should be published by April, Gabriel said. Around that same time, the Commission will launch 11 co-programmed research partnerships, including artificial intelligence, robotics, batteries and photonics.

 

The first funding call under EU's new research framework programme Horizon Europe will open on 25 February, the European Research Council (ERC) has announced today.

According to the ERC work programme published today, the ERC will open the Starting Grant with a deadline for submitting proposals extended until 8 April. The deadline extension is intended to give researchers enough time to prepare their proposals, while keeping the call within budget and without delaying the evaluation calendar. The ERC's Consolidator Grant call will open on 11 March and the Advanced Grant on 20 May 2021. The Synergy and Proof of Concept calls will not open under this year’s work programme.

ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said the delayed political agreement on the EU multiannual budget has impacted the timing of the first Horizon Europe calls, but the Commission has been able to maintain original timelines for evaluations. "The European Commission’s commitment, and the outstanding dedication of the Executive Agency staff, have enabled us to maintain the original planning for the evaluations, in particular for the 2021 Starting Grant call," said Bourguignon.

According to Bourguignon, until negotiations on association in Horizon Europe are complete, applicants based in the UK and other countries associated to Horizon 2020 will still be able to apply for ERC grants "on a conditional basis". "The ERC is now very hopeful for a timely conclusion of Horizon Europe association negotiations in order to be able to fund successful applicants," he said.

In 2021, the ERC will make available €1.9 billion for some 1,000 top researchers to pursue frontier research. Two thirds of the funding is earmarked for early- to mid-career scientists and scholars. The funding will also support jobs for an estimated 6,860 postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and other research staff employed in ERC-funded teams.

 

EU education ministers today passed a resolution establishing the framework for EU cooperation in education and training for the next decade, taking a step towards creating a European Education Area.

The resolution “represents a very significant milestone in the achievement of the European Innovation Area,” said EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

By the end of the year, the European Commission will set up a governance structure with member states to coordinate efforts. The new body will allow member states to work together towards five strategic priorities, including improving the quality and inclusiveness of education, boosting access to lifelong learning and mobility, reinforcing higher education and teacher training, and support the green and digital transition through education and training.

“This is a challenge. We will have to ensure we maintain a high level of ambition without putting any additional pressure on national structures,” said Gabriel. To achieve the goals, she reminded ministers, education must be well-funded and appealed to member states to boost investments in education with funding from the EU’s €750 billion recovery package. To help member states spend money wisely, the Commission will set up an expert group on quality investments in education.

 

Spain is investing €160 million from the EU recovery fund to support industry-led aeronautics research and innovation and help the industry recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

The programme will support aeronautics research until 2023, investing in the development of carbon-neutral aircraft, new multipurpose aircraft and systems, and boosting Spain’s capacity in the field of unmanned and intelligent aircraft. The first call for projects will be launched this year with a budget of up to €40 million.

The EU recovery money, including Spain’s €160 million in aeronautics research, will start flowing in the summer after member states submit their plans for how they want to spend the €672.5 billion funding pot.

 

EU ambassadors today confirmed the deal on the future of the European Institute of Innovation Technology reached by policymakers last month after a year and a half of talks.

The final deal gives the EIT’s public-private partnerships more control over their own budgets and sets out the EU innovation agency’s priorities for the next seven years.

Next, the European Parliament will adopt its position on the deal, which will then have to be formally approved by the Council.

 

The European Commission plans to use its annual flagship conference on R&D policy - brought forward from September to June – for ‘celebratory’ official launch of the new seven year research programme 

A newsletter sent by the Commission on Monday says the 2021 edition of the Research and Innovation Days, an online event scheduled for 23 and 24 June will “mark the official launch” of Horizon Europe.

The announcement comes only a couple of weeks after the Commission and the Portuguese presidency of the Council organised a joint event to launch the research programme on 2 February.

At the time, research stakeholders said the event was a symbolic launch of the programme, marking the end of the lengthy preparations and negotiations, since terms for public private partnerships and the scope of the research missions are yet to be agreed.

Also, official work programmes listing research calls for the first two years of the programme won’t be released until April. The European Parliament is still waiting for the Council to come to an agreement on the second part of the Horizon Europe legislation, which is spells out details on the specific goals of each component of the programme.

Research and Innovation Days is the Commission’s flagship event on R&D policy, usually taking place in September. This year, the event has been moved to June, shortly after the Commission expects most details of Horizon Europe to be settled and when it will be able to launch the first calls.

According to the Commission, the event’s agenda will “focus on new initiatives to strengthen the European Research Area and it will highlight the importance of collective research and innovation in the coronavirus recovery and for a greener and more digital future.”

According to one source in the Commission, the June conference will count as the “celebratory official launch” of Horizon Europe.

According to Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy development at the European University Association, the Commission will most likely use the June event to debate and shape the future of research and innovation in Europe and beyond. But “If the [Commission] would design the R&I days as an exclusive Horizon launch event, then it could be confusing,” he said.

Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general at the League of European Research Universities has voiced his disappointment that the Commission and the Portuguese presidency did not invite representatives of research-intensive universities to speak at the February 2 event. In an email to Science|Business he noted that these are the people, “who at the end of the day will make the programme a success, or not.”

In the statement published on Monday, EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel invited researchers to join the June event, to share their thoughts on how the EU can overcome the pandemic and pave the way for a green and digital economy. “The 2021 edition of the European Research and Innovation Days could not have come at a more important time,” she said.

 

The European Research Council (ERC) is launching a new mentoring scheme to help scientists from countries that struggle to secure financing from the EU's basic research funder. 

Researchers from countries where the levels of participation and success rates in ERC calls have been modest will receive support from ERC grantees and former evaluation panel members.

The ERC hopes the new scheme will help widen participation in ERC calls, which often disproportionally award researchers in Western European countries.

 

Science policy should move towards more horizontal approaches and agility while taking advantage of the COVID-19 momentum to provide solutions to other pressing societal challenges, a Commission webcast hears.

Building on the findings of the OECD STI Outlook report which concluded that last year science saw unprecedented mobilisation, showed research is the only way out of the crisis, and stretched R&I systems around the world to their limits, on Friday science policy experts reflected on the key transformations awaiting science policy.

Clara Eugenia García, coordinator for science policy at the Spanish Representation to the EU, said science is facing new types of challenges, and the policy mix must change completely, not just play with a set of existing instruments. Spain’s science policy today is vertical but the problems the country faces, such as climate change, are horizontal. “Our structures and institutions are not equipped to deal with them,” argued García.

Daniel Dufour, director of external relations at the science and research policy branch in the government of Canada, underlined the importance of increasing policy agility to meet current challenges. “It may sound obvious but it’s a tremendous challenge for governments,” he said.

 

On the day of Women and Girls in Science, the research community is celebrating female researchers but heads of EU science admit more work needs to be done to harness their full potential.

In a video message, EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel praised Europe for nearing an even gender split in the number of PhD graduates, with 48% now being women, but encouraged Europe to continue closing the gap as only 33% of researchers in Europe today are female. “We need to encourage women to develop skills in science […] so we can finally take advantage of all our talent and diversity,“ Gabriel said.

Germany’s research minister Anja Karliczek applauded an increase in female professors in the country’s universities, the percentage rising from 16% to 25% since 2007, but noted she can still see room for improvement. To further foster equality, the country is launching a new €41 million research funding programme for increasing the visibility of women in science and innovation.

The European Commission’s research chief, Jean-Eric Paquet, tweeted, “While we’ve made a lot of progress, we must continue.“ One of the Commission’s new tools for better inclusion will be using gender balance in research groups as a tie-breaker when selecting projects for funding, Science|Business reports.

 

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