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

20 Oct 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.

 

“We have to introduce the principle of competitiveness in all sectors of the economy, including in research,” Romanian prime minister Florin Câțu told a meeting organised by the French chamber of commerce in Bucharest last week.

Câțu said researchers should compete among themselves and only those who deliver results should receive public funding.

According to Eurostat Romania has the lowest R&D public and private expenditure in the EU. In 2019, only 0.48% of GDP was invested in research and development. The EU average is 2.2%.

Universities and researchers have previously complained about the lack of predictability of funding competitions. Earlier this year, Romanian researchers have signed a petition asking the government to establish a new national Research Council, which they say, will end the confusion and inefficiency that has plagued the national funding system for years.

Researchers say a new funding agency should be based on the “Haldane principle”, which holds that decisions on funding research are best taken through peer review rather than top-down political decisions.

“We have to find those centres where development can be done through research,” said Câțu. “Depending on results, we can introduce more resources.”

The European Commission and Parliament are now trying to convince member states to raise national investments in R&D to at least 3% of GDP by 2030. Member states are expected to commit to that target by signing pact for research and innovation this autumn. The pact was drafted at the initiative of EU research and innovation commissioner Mariya Gabriel and is part of a broader plan to renew the European Research Area, a single market for European research.

 

Policymakers should consider the role of non-profits, such as research and technology organisations and universities, in industrial EU research partnerships when designing them, says the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO).

The EU member states, with the help of the European Parliament, are currently hashing out the details of the rules governing 10 new industrial partnerships in fields like hydrogen, rail and health innovation, and EARTO is urging them not to forget the specificities of the non-industry members of the partnerships in the process.

The association wants non-profit partners to have laxer and clearly defined rules for in-kind contributions and encourages the partnerships to keep a fair balance between different technology readiness levels among other asks.

“It is essential to ensure that the measures taken to boost private co-investments and reporting do not create unintended barriers to entry for non-profit RD&I actors in European partnerships,” the association says.

 

Austria wants the European Commission to immediately start talks with Switzerland on its association to the EU research programme Horizon Europe, EU research ministers heard in an informal Council meeting earlier this week.

“Switzerland is in the heart of Europe and shares our values and principles,” Austrian research minister Heinz Faßmann told his counterparts. “Close research cooperation with Switzerland is obvious in the best sense of the word and a continuation of this partnership is in the interests of both sides.”

Switzerland was associated to the Horizon Europe predecessor, Horizon 2020, which gave the country full access to the programme on the same footing as EU member states. But the country was barred from securing its place in the new research programme and has been left with limited access after the Swiss government blocked its €1.2 billion contribution to the EU cohesion funds.

The country has expressed willingness to start the talks as soon as possible but the Commission is holding out for the outstanding payment to the cohesion funds.

The Austrian minister noted the contribution must be made but a close cooperation in research could help rebuild the strained relationship between the EU and Switzerland. “With research, we can build a bridge,” said Faßmann.

 

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.

 

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