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

20 Sep 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.

 

The European Commission has concluded the first round of negotiations for Moldova and Tunisia’s association to Horizon Europe, which would give the two countries privileged access to the research programme.

In the first series of meetings, the Commission explained the details of how the countries will be able to contribute to the programme financially in return for access.

The next round of negotiations will take place in the second half of July, with the aim to conclude the negotiations in autumn and seal the deals by the end of the year.

The Commission hopes to complete most of the agreements with countries that were associated to the previous research programme, Horizon 2020, by the end of the year to avoid prolonged delays and uncertainty. Until then, researchers and organisations from previously associated countries are invited to apply to Horizon Europe funding calls as if their countries already held full access to the programme.

 

The European Parliament on Thursday voted through its resolution on the European Research Area (ERA), naming the initiative ‘a key priority’ for the EU and its green and digital ambitions.

The ERA is a single market where researchers and scientific knowledge can move freely. The European Commission and EU member states first embarked on creating it in 2000 but quicky lowered ambitions. Last year, the Commission renewed the efforts putting forward a proposal for a revamped ERA.

Responding to the Commission’s proposal, the Parliament on Thursday stressed the importance of prioritising fundamental research as part of the plans and highlighted the link  between research and entrepreneurship should be exploited to boost innovation in Europe.

The MEPs also highlighted the role of universities in creating a single market for research and emphasised the importance of empowering women and girls to enter scientific careers.

 

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology has revealed the evaluation criteria it will use to pick a consortium trusted to launch its new Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) for culture and creativity.

The call will go live in October, with a deadline for submissions in March 2022. But potential applicants – consortia made up of research organisations, universities and companies – can already check by which criteria their application will be judged.

Due to launch next year, the new KIC will be the ninth network of universities, companies and research organisations providing training, advice and funding to promising innovators across the EU. Its creation is part of the reinforced EIT, the EU’s innovation agency.

 

Spain will invest €2.3 billion in research and innovation this year, double the amount invested in science by the country last year.

The increase in budget is largely due to the EU rolling out its recovery budget which will inject €672.5 billion in member state economies over the next few years.

 The money will be distributed to research and innovation projects around the country through the country’s three funding agencies. Thanks to the top-up, the agencies will fund more proof of concept, green and digital transition projects, provide more direct funding to companies, and increase the average funding per project for selected calls.

 

A new training programme for boosting skills needed in the European battery industry is set to start up in France, after a signing of a pact as part of EU efforts to develop a battery value chain in Europe.

European countries are currently working together to consolidate their place in the global battery industry as part of the European Commission-led European Battery Alliance. But along with boosting innovation and production, it is expected Europe will face a skills shortage. Industry estimates that by 2025 there could be a shortage of some 800,000 jobs across the battery value chain. The French training programme aims to help fill the gap by training around 150,000 people by 2025.

This is the second such training programme in Europe, with the pact for the first one in Spain signed in May. Throughout this year, the Alliance hopes to roll out the initiative across Europe. Also in 2021, alongside the skills project, the Commission launched an industrial partnership for batteries striving to develop a competitive and sustainable European battery market by 2030.

“By 2025, we will be making enough battery cells each year to power at least six million electric cars,” said Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič. “The new battery industry requires a new set of skills.”

 

The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) has picked Jana Kolar, executive director of CERIC-ERIC, the Central European Research Infrastructure Consortium, to be its new chair.

From January 2022, Kolar will guide the work of the group of member state representatives that sets the roadmap for European research infrastructures and supports policymaking.

Kolar has held a number of roles in the Slovenian public sector, such as director general of the government’s science and technology office, chairwoman of the board of the Slovenian Technology Agency and Slovenia’s Research Agency. At EU level, she served on the governing body of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), and advised the European Commission on how to strengthen support for breakthrough innovation when it was launching the new EU start-up fund, the European Innovation Council.

“I would like to leave ESFRI better integrated into renewed ERA, better functioning and with higher visibility,” said Kolar. “We should have a more proactive approach to [R&I] landscape analysis. Europe is changing, and we have to identify the gaps with more respect to the policies and integrate ESFRI [research infrastructures] in the renewed European Research Area.”

 

A report by the European Round Table for Industry (ERT), a forum of 60 CEOs of leading multinational companies, calls on the European Commission to keep its plans for open strategic autonomy flexible enough for companies to be able to cooperate with partners in the US on joint R&D projects in advanced technologies.

“The EU’s emphasis on open strategic autonomy must be defined and implemented with sufficient flexibility to embrace collaboration with partners such as the US,” the report says.

European companies say they share similar concerns as US counterparts about unfair competition from China and called for closer cooperation in joint innovation and R&D projects in advanced technologies and joint investments in supply chain resilience for critical goods or technologies such as semiconductors.

“We hope that the new Trade and Technology Council, created at the recent EU-US summit, will become a key platform for transatlantic collaboration with a broad and ambitious agenda,” said Jacob Wallenberg, chair of the ERT committee on trade & market access.

“We would like the Trade and Technology Council to lay the foundation for a long-term working relationship that can overcome some of the existing barriers and continue to allow both sides to foster cooperative innovation,” Wallenberg said.

European multinationals say the EU should also help European companies protect their intellectual property in China.

“There is already growing momentum in China to strengthen IP rights through domestic legislation, as the country moves from being an importer to being an exporter of IP. The EU should encourage China to strengthen legal patent rights and protections using bilateral and multilateral fora, such as the WTO and WIPO.”

 

Ireland’s new €5.5 million research programme, DOROTHY, aimed at creating solutions to public health crises will fund 25 three-year postdoctoral fellowships with top-up financing from the EU’s research programme Horizon Europe.

Supported by the Horizon Europe researcher training initiative, the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions, the postdoc programme will aim to break down barriers between different academic disciplines focusing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in areas ranging from immunology to arts. It will allow the researchers to work both in Irish and overseas research institutions.

“The DOROTHY programme will support the next generation of researchers in Ireland who can help inform public health policy on a national and international stage,” said the country’s research and education minister Simon Harris. “At the heart of the programme is the opportunity for researchers to break down barriers between different disciplines and collaborate with peers, and ultimately deliver results that will benefit every facet of Irish society.”

 

Two EU research and innovation funding agencies, the European Innovation Council and the European Research Council, hosted their first joint workshop this week focused on gene and cell therapy.

The workshop brought together the grantees of the basic research funder, the ERC, and the representatives of the innovation funder, the EIC, in the field of gene and cell therapy to explore potential technologies that could emerge from EU-funded research.

The newly established collaboration between the two EU bodies aims to transfer scientific breakthroughs to the market. “We know that the gap between frontier research and innovation is often huge, and that's why the EIC and ERC, which have different but complementary missions, join efforts to bridge this gap,” said ERC presidency Jean Pierre Bourguignon.

Cell and gene therapy is a promising research field that has the potential to transform medicine and was selected to be the first topic discussed in a series of joint workshops. The ERC has invested over €300 million in more than 150 basic research projects on the topic since 2014. Meanwhile, the EIC launched its first targeted call for novel concept-based technologies in cell and gene therapy last month.

The topic of the next joint workshop will be energy storage technologies and will take place this autumn.

 

Four members of the European Parliament are questioning the usefulness of asking Horizon Europe applicants to detail how they will respect the ‘do no significant harm’ principle in their research proposals.

The oath to protect biodiversity and ecosystems from significant damage was recently introduced to parts of the EU research programme. It requires applicants to include information on their compliance with the principle but does not impact the proposal’s overall score. The MEPs are questioning why this extra information should be included if it has no impact on the final outcome of the competition. 

“If this is the case, taking into account that it increases the workload […] why does the Commission believe the proposal is the right stage of the project cycle to obtain this information while it will not have an impact at this stage?” inquired the group of MEPs, which includes both of the Parliament’s Horizon Europe rapporteurs Christian Ehler and Dan Nica as well as shadow rapporteurs Evžen Tošenovský and Martina Dlabajova.

The MEPs also pointed to an inconsistency in the Commission’s approach as it limited the number of pages for proposals under Horizon Europe while asking applicants to include more information than before.

 

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