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

18 Jun 2021 | Live Blog

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. The Commission has yet 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 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.

 

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel today met with a group of investors who seek to strenghten women’s participation in the venture capital industry in Europe, the European Women in Venture Capital Group, to work on creating a more gender-balanced EU innovation system.

“We need women’s creativity and entrepreneurial potential to create jobs and growth. If we want more women innovators in Europe, we need to invest more and provide them with the right education and support early on,” said Gabriel.

The meeting is the first in a series of meetings between the investors and the commissioner and part of the Commission’s efforts to foster gender equality in the EU research programme, Horizon Europe. Earlier this year, the Commission also launched an entrepreneuship training initiative for female start-up founders, Women TechEU.

 

EIT Digital, an EU-supported innovation community, will offer deferred payment schemes for students partaking in its innovation and entrepreneurship courses to improve access to education and help close the digital skills gap in Europe.

The €2.5 million scheme facilitating access to training for around 500 people will be funded by the European Investment Fund as part of a new EU initiative dedicated to stimulating access to finance in education, training and skills.

Currently, four our of ten adults in the EU lack basic digital skills. EIT Digital courses are one of the EU‘s many initiatives partly aimed at closing the gap. "The digital transition profoundly changes the way we live, study and work,“ said Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission. “We must equip people with the right skills to master this transition and make the most out of the opportunities the future brings.

 

University associations are calling on the European Commission and EU member states to redraft the new pact for improving research and innovation in Europe.

In a joint letter, CESAER and LERU expressed concern about the draft text of the pact that will seek to reaffirm member states’ commitment to dedicating 3% of their GDP to public and private research spending. The two associations hope policymakers will redraft the pact following the public consultation which launched last week making it more legally binding and involving more research stakeholders in the re-development of the pact. 

The Guild, separately, called for the final version of the pact to more prominently address how to strengthen Europe's research capacity, the key aim of the European Research Area

“We see this letter as a wake up call to the European Commission to go back to the drawing board and come forward with improved texts and stakeholder engagement,” said David Bohmert, secretary-general of CESAER. 

“[…] LERU wonders what is the added value of this process, which will just repeat, confirm at best, but even weaken in some places what we already know, aimed for and have realised?” pondered Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of LERU. “And we, leading research-intensive universities, are here to help you."

 

The European Commission today launched the first competition call looking for project examples showcasing the values of the New European Bauhaus, an EU-led project aiming to put a green twist on Europe’s buildings and culture.  

The projects are expected to reflect the principles of the New Bauhaus – sustainability, aesthetics, and inclusion – across 10 categories, such as green techniques, materials and processes for construction, places demonstrating circularity principles, regenerated places, modular living solutions, and others.

There are two parallel competitions. One for existing demonstrations of the new Bauhaus, with a prize fund of €30,000 in each of the 10 categories. The second competition seeks new concepts and ideas from people under 30, with 10 prizes of €15,000 set aside for the winners. The deadline to submit applications is 31 May.

The Commission is currently working on shaping the concept of the New European Bauhaus. The latest competition is part of the efforts to define the movement and find existing demonstrations of its principles. This phase will culminate in a launch of the first call for proposals for five projects, bringing the concept to life this autumn.

 

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on a new pact for European research and innovation, in a bid to convince member states to sign up to a renewed commitment to increase investment in R&D.

The pact will seek to revive the plans for a single market for research and reaffirm the EU’s 3% public and private R&D spending target first floated in 2000. Only a handful countries have reached the target since massive research budget cuts following the 2008 financial crisis watered down the ambitions. Now, the Commission wants member states to sign a new pact promising to reach the 3% target.

The consultation, which seeks opinions from research stakeholders on what the pact should entail, is open until 13 May.

 

The EU science hub, the Joint Research Centre, is calling for a mapping of primary forests in Europe, which currently account for 3% of the EU’s total forested area, in a new report published on Earth Day.

There are about 4.9 million hectares of primary forests in Europe, which exist in their original condition, follow natural dynamics and are largely untouched by humans. The report calls for a robust and up-to-date mapping of these forests to help policymakers and scientists understand how best to protect them.

"European untouched forests are natural treasures that have been providing benefits to humans for centuries and are vital for our health, biodiversity and climate,” said EU commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius. ”That is why mapping and monitoring remaining primary forests in the EU is an important contribution to the next step - their strict protection.”

 

The European Commission has launched a call for applications to select members of the InvestEU investment committee, a group of 12 experts which would decide on investments in innovation and digital and green technologies. The deadline for submission is 7 May.

The Commission has also adopted Investment Guidelines of the InvestEU programme, with detailed information on the requirements that financing and investment operations must satisfy in order to receive support from the InvestEU.

Another document adopted by the Commission lays down simplified rules for the functioning of the database of investment opportunities within the EU.

The InvestEU Advisory Board will convene for the first time at the end of April. Next, the Commission is expected to conclude the guarantee and advisory agreements and the selection of implementing partners other than the EIB Group.

 

The EU basic research funder, the European Research Council, received 24% more applications than last year in its latest €619 million Starting grants call, which awards early career researchers. The increase signals dropping success rates for ERC funding.

The first starting grants call under the new EU research programme, Horizon Europe, closed last week after receiving 4,056 applications. Last year, researchers submitted 3,272 applications, 13.3% of which secured financing. But the budget earmarked for the call is slightly lower this year at €619 million compared with €677 million last year.

The ERC is a lifeline for basic research in the EU but few researchers can get funding. Some fear if it becomes increasingly difficult to secure grants, excellent researchers will stop applying and focus their time and energy elsewhere. However, the ERC budget may increase once more non-EU countries join the new Horizon Europe research programme, enabling the fund to better meet the demand.

 

The EU-funded network of health innovators, EIT Health, is urging healthcare providers to invest in AI and technology following the pandemic to prevent healthcare systems from struggling over the next decade.

In a new report, EIT Health says growing and ageing population is bound to put a strain on healthcare services. AI, other technologies, and data-sharing across borders could help relieve the stress by delivering helpful innovations.

To take full advantage of AI and data, the report recommends improving collaboration and exchange of best practice across the EU, building on existing networks and infrastructures to support AI integration, improving education and skills, and developing value-based financial models that incorporates AI and acknowledges the longer-term cost saving. 

“We already know that AI has the potential to transform healthcare, but we need to work quickly and collaboratively to build it into current European healthcare structures,” said Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO of EIT Health.

 

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