28 Sep 2020

HORIZON BLOG: Research and innovation in the next EU budget

The European Commission is working on a new proposal for its 2021-2027 multiannual budget, which is to be paired with a recovery plan aimed at helping the EU come out of the looming recession set in motion by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, we gather the latest news and reactions to how the EU is planning to fund its research and innovation programmes during the difficult period ahead.

Tips are welcome at news@sciencebusiness.net.

 

Swiss voters have voted to keep their free movement of people agreement with the EU, clearing the way for the country to settle a new trade relationship with Brussels.

In a referendum on Sunday, 61.71 percent of voters rejected a proposal to limit migration from EU countries. Scientists were among the strongest opponents of the referendum, which they said risked a deepening of the economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a loss of access to EU research programmes.

“We can’t do experiments in a crisis,” said Petra Studer, coordinator of Netzwerk Future, a body representing higher education, research and innovation organisations at the Swiss Parliament.

She said that Swiss voters already suffering in the pandemic had seen the huge uncertainty caused by Brexit, and “didn’t want to go down the same route”. 

Swiss politicians will now try put relations with Brussels on a new footing. Like the UK, Switzerland is in its own difficult negotiation with the EU, being asked to endorse a new treaty that would require it to routinely adopt single market rules.

The EU views this as merely updating and simplifying the Swiss arrangement, which spans a complex web of more than 120 bilateral deals. But the new treaty also includes demands that the Swiss soften rules protecting wages, the highest in Europe, from cross-border competition by EU workers on temporary assignments.

As part of this new trade relationship, Swiss politicians will hope that the vote result strengthens their hand in negotiating access to the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe. So far, Brussels has been playing hardball with the Swiss, threatening to block the country from accessing the full programme, which starts next year.

 

The European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s three knowledge and innovation communities (KICs) today signed an agreement to join efforts in nurturing Europe’s innovation ecosystem.

“We intend to design and implement together a fully-fledged, open systemic and structural cooperation between the EIC and the first wave EIT KICs both operationally and financially,” said Jean-David Malo, the director of the EIC.

EU research commissioner called the agreement between the EU’s two innovation agencies “a steppingstone in creating the European Innovation Area”.

A working group made up of representatives of both agencies is currently working on finding ways how they could best collaborate. Speaking at an EU Research and Innovation Days session on Tuesday, EIC board member Marja Makarov said potential measures include giving EIT supported start-ups easier access to EIC Accelerator grants.

While only three KICs, Climate, Digital and Innovative Energy, signed the agreement today, collaborations between the EIC and the EIT's five other KICs will be launched in the future.

 

The European Innovation Council (EIC) today awarded five innovation projects 1 million each for developing affordable high-tech solutions for humanitarian aid.

The projects provide community-wide alerts for fires in shelters, help remotely monitor water tankers to improve the effectiveness of alternative water supplies, provide refugees with cheap recyclable solar lamps, offer prostetics and orthotic devices produced with 3D printers, and deploy drones to improve efficiency and safety when clearing mines.

 

The Belgian city of Leuven is the European Capital of Innovation 2020 and will receive a €1 million cash prize recognising its achievements, the commission announced at this year’s EU Research and Innovation Days.

Leuven is awarded for nurturing excellent innovation concepts and creating a governance model enabling ideas to come to life. To learn more about Leuven’s model for cultivating innovation, read our report.

 

Start-ups that received funding from the European Investment Council (EIC) have so far raised €5.3 billion in funding from follow-up private investments, according to a new report on the EIC's impact on the EU’s innovation ecosystem.

The EIC pilot was launched in 2017 with a budget of €1.3 billion dedicated to investing in European deeptech start-ups. The EIC provides both grants and equity investments to promising SMEs, the latter of which de-risk investments in promising start-ups, allowing private investors to step in at a lesser risk. 

The report also found that the EIC made progress in supporting female innovators and advancing the EU’s sustainable development goals, with over 90 per cent of companies contributing to green growth.

Starting from 2021, the EIC will run as a separate EU agency with the help of programme managers who will manage project portfolios in different fields. Two new programme managers will join the EIC on 1 October: Antonio Pantaleo will focus on bioenergy projects and Francesco Matteucci will manage the portfolio for green energy.

 

The 10,000 grantees of the EU’s fundamental research funding agency, the European Research Council (ERC), will come together in an association set to be launched by the end of this year, its founders announced today at the EU Research and Innovation Days meeting.

The Association of the ERC Grantees will have three core goals: building a community of 10,000 scientists, sharing the results of their work with policymakers and the public, and helping other researchers to submit their applications to the ERC.

The new association will function as a Belgian non-profit and be governed by eighteen elected board members. The first board will be made up of the founding members of the association and led by President Axel Cleeremans, a professor in cognitive science and a research director at Belgium’s National Fund for Scientific Research.

 

Europe’s leading female, breakthrough and most impactful innovators were awarded cash prizes of up to €100,000 in an award ceremony today at this year’s EU Research and Innovation Days meeting.

The winners of the EU Prize for Women Innovators are Madiha Derouazi, the CEO of a Swiss developer of therapeutic cancer vaccines, Amal Therapeutics; Maria Fátima Lucas, the CEO of Zymvol Biomodeling, a Portuguese company developing industrial enzymes by applying molecular modelling; and Arancha Martínez, the managing director of It Will Be, a Spanish company that helps tackle poverty through innovation. Each female innovator will be awarded a €100,000 cash prize.

In the Rising Innovator category dedicated to entrepreneurs under the age of 35, Josefien Groot, the CEO of a Qlayers, a Dutch developer of microstructures that boost the efficiency of wind turbines, will receive a €50,000 cash prize for her achievements.

The European Commission also gave special awards to Horizon 2020-funded projects that had the most societal impact in the second edition of the Horizon Impact Award. Five projects that help reduce airline’s CO2 emissions, improve the quality of life for children with heart failure, preserve threatened species in the Southern Ocean and digitally translate historical handwritten documents will each receive an award of €10,000.

Together with this year’s winners, the commission also rewarded one of last year’s winners that could not receive the award at the time: a Dutch-led research project developing a humidification system that helps prolong the shelf-life of fruit and veg without using plastic packaging, FRESH-DEMO.

 

Tech start-ups supported by the the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) may soon be able to enjoy easier access to the European Innovation Council's (EIC) Accelerator grants, said Marja Makarow, a member of the EIC advisory board and the director of Biocenter Finland.

Speaking at the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Days, Makarow said this is one of the potential measures currently being discussed by a joint advisory group meant to help develop deeper synergies between the EU’s two programmes helping SMEs bring innovative solutions to the market.

Other potential measures include co-investing in start-ups and familiarising EIC programme managers, who manage the EIC’s investment portfolios, with the work of the EIT KICs to help them find synergies between the two EU innovation agencies.

 

Tomorrow, the European Commission will launch its last and biggest €1 billion Horizon 2020 call for projects aiming to help the EU respond to the climate crisis and help protect Europe’s biodiversity.

Announced a day after the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, set out more ambitious climate targets for 2030, the new call will aim to address climate change challenges with fewer than usual but more targeted and larger short to medium-term projects that can have long-term impact.

Proposed projects should address one of following areas:

  • Increasing climate ambition,
  • Clean, affordable and secure energy,
  • Industry for a clean and circular economy,
  • Energy and resource efficient buildings,
  • Sustainable and smart mobility,
  • Farm to fork,
  • Biodiversity and ecosystems,
  • Zero-pollution, toxic-free environments.

The deadline for project proposals is 26 January 2021. Selected projects will start in autumn next year. More information about the call for projects will be announced at the European Research and Innovation Days next week.

 

At an informal council meeting today, education ministers will discuss the European Skills Agenda together with Nicolas Schmit, the EU’s jobs and social rights commissioner.

The European Skills Agenda, launched by the European Commission in July, is a five-year plan aiming to help Europeans develop the right skills for the changing ways in which we work in light of the EU’s digital and green transformations.

To compliment the commission’s paper, the German Presidency will present a discussion paper on vocational education and training, based on which, the ministers will discuss the prospective Osnabrück declaration aimed at reaffirming Europe’s commitment to ensuring citizens have the right skills for a climate neutral and digital Europe.

According to the German Presidency’s programme, the declaration will be an agreement by EU member states and partners to strengthen vocational and education training and “achieve equivalence between vocational and academic education, easing the transfer between academic and vocational education and intensifying cross-border cooperation.”

Germany’s research and education minister, Anja Karliczek, said she would like the declaration to be signed in the next meeting of the EU’s education ministers in November. “The goal is to achieve the quick realisation of improved vocational training cooperation in Europe,” she said.

 

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