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 Commission is asking all interested stakeholders to comment on a proposed revision of the EU state aid rules for research, development, and innovation.

The state aid rules provide a framework for using public funds to support research, development and innovation activities in areas where the market fails. The current rules work well but are partially out of date. The Commission now wants to simplify them, introduce provisions for supporting technology infrastructures and clarify certain definitions.

All stakeholders are invited to provide feedback to the Commission on the foreseen changes by 3 June 2021. Following the consultation, the Commission hopes to adopt the new state aid rules in the second half of this year.

 

The first €123 million emergency call for projects under the new EU research programme, Horizon Europe, will open on 13 April, inviting researchers to advance the development of novel therapeutics and vaccines for fighting COVID-19.

Originally foreseen to launch in March, the call aims to forge ahead with the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines by funding clinical trials, supporting and developing large-scale international COVID-19 cohort studies, and reinforcing data sharing and research infrastructures. Applications will be accepted until 6 May 2021.

The funded projects will be expected to tackle short to medium-term threats and boost Europe’s pandemic preparedness as part of the €150 million HERA Incubator, a bio-defence programme for tackling emerging coronavirus variants. The incubator is a first step towards the creation of the proposed European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), an EU agency modelled after the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

 

Spain’s national business R&D funder, the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology, today announced it will award €76 million to 161 industry research and development projects.

A total of 168 companies will participate in the funded projects, four of which will address the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, developing plastic laminates with antiviral properties, transparent silicone masks, disinfection tools, and automated manufacturing systems for protective garments.

 

Cyprus yesterday launched a €15 million programme aiming to strengthen its national research and innovation ecosystem.

As part of the programme co-funded with the help of the EU’s regional funds, Cyprus will invest €10 million in various research projects, €3.6 million in business R&D, while the rest of the funding will be available for initiatives aiming to commercialise research results and investigate industrial applications of new technologies. Four calls for proposals are already open and another two are expected to go live by the end of the year.

To help researchers access the funding, the national foundation managing the programme revamped its policy allowing more young researchers to lead projects and providing incentives for collaboration with private companies.

The aim of the calls is to enhance the R&I ecosystem in Cyprus, one of the smallest EU countries, where funding for research has been significantly lower than EU average. While the country’s scientists tend to do well in the EU’s research programmes, in 2019, the country invested merely 0.63% of its GDP in research, according to the OECD.  

 

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel today discussed the experiences of scaling-up European start-ups with the founders and CEOs of 35 ‘unicorns’, companies valued at over $1 billion.

The meeting will feed into Gabriel’s planning for future support for the European innovation ecosystem, paving the way towards the EU goal to double the number of unicorns to around 250 in Europe by 2030.

"We need European unicorns to ensure EU leadership in deep tech start-ups to pave the way towards Europe's sustainable and resilient recovery, accelerate the green and digital transitions, innovation cohesion across EU, and ensure Europe's technological sovereignty," said Gabriel.

After a three-year pilot phase, the Commission earlier this month launched the EU start-up fund, the European Innovation Council, which will work together with the EU innovation agency, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, to help entrepreneurs speed up the deployment and scaling up of innovations across Europe.

 

Germany has launched a €15 million funding programme for cross-border research projects into green hydrogen in hopes to boost the country‘s strategic cooperation with international partners in the sector.

The first call for proposals opened yesterday for joint projects between Germany and New Zealand. The applicants can request up to €400,000 until 4 June for projects investigating the production of green hydrogen; its integration in the heating systems and gas networks; supply and transport challenges; and material innovations for increasing the efficiency of production.

The call is the latest move in Germany‘s recent push for a creating a leading hydrogen economy.

 

The European Commission has awarded 2,885 researchers, who applied for the 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) individual grants, the Seal of Excellence Certificate, a consolation prize for proposals that scored high but could not be financed due to a lack of sufficient funds.

The seal of excellence is meant to help researchers secure funding from alternative sources, such as EU regional funds and national programmes. The seal does not guarantee funding, but twelve EU countries have special schemes to support the awardees.

The 2021 call for the MSCA individual grants, now called postdoctoral fellowships, which finance training and mobility of researchers of any nationality, will run between 18 May and 15 September, inviting researchers with up to eight years of post-PhD research experience to apply.

 

The Human Brain Project, the EU’s €1 billion brain research initiative, is calling on researchers to propose new projects looking into the impact of COVID-19 on brain disorders and mental health issues.

Research topics include exploring the changes in brain structure and function in people that have been injected with COVID-19, modelling and simulation of COVID-19 disease scenarios, and research into the effect of COVID-19 vaccines on the brain and mental health.

There is €450,000 in the funding pot, and up to €225,000 are available per project. Proposals should be submitted by 30 April 2021.

 

Austria is investing €146.5 million in three companies carrying out research and innovation in microelectronics, as it joins the €1.75 billion Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) in the field.

The country’s investment in Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria was greenlighted by the Commission today and is expected to unlock €530 million of additional private investments in microelectronics research.

Austria is the fifth country to join the IPCEI, which was set-up in 2018 by France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom to boost strategic transnational microelectronics innovation.

 

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is putting €50 million in risk financing towards the Bavarian venture capital fund, Wachstumsfonds Bayern 2, providing impetus for the German venture capital market.

The Bavarian fund provides scale-up financing to innovative start-ups in robotics, digital technologies, industrial manufacturing processes, artificial intelligence and life sciences.

Venture capital investments in Germany remain below the EU average, and the investment will help inject much-needed funding into the country’s start-ups. The fund’s target size is €165 million, with €115 million already committed by LfA, a specialist promotional bank of Bavaria.

 

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