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.
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A new report says the EU should have a dedicated fellowship programme to support researchers from abroad whose lives, liberty or careers are in danger.
A dedicated programme would enhance funding for researchers at risk, their host institutions and support organisations in Europe, helping support their research as well as additional support measures.
The report by Inspireurope, a project backed by the EU researcher mobility programme, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), is based on a survey of organisations supporting and hosting researchers who are unable to work in their home countries due to hostile conditions.
Based on the survey results, the authors also recommend to support researchers at risk by prolonging their first placements in EU research institutions from one year to three, ensuring they are informed about follow-up career options after the placements, enhancing information and training services, offering more support to female researchers, expanding collaboration opportunities with the private sector, and delivering policy-level support.
Ludovic Thilly, the chair of the university association, the Coimbra Group, is urging EU policymakers and national governments to support early career researchers affected by the COVID-19 crisis by extending ongoing project contracts.
“The lockdown and sanitary measures taken across Europe to counter the pandemic, resulted in limited to no access to university facilities such as laboratories and libraries,” wrote Thilly in a statement last week. “While this impacted research productivity for all researchers, both experienced ones and those at an early-stage, the latter – women in particular - are further affected by concerns related to their career progression. The crisis has revealed how fragile the status of early-career researchers is.”
The European Commission today announced 75 health research projects that will receive a total of €508 million in grants from the EU research programme, Horizon 2020.
The projects, involving 158 participants from 58 countries, will develop treatments and vaccines for various diseases, including d brain-related diseases and cancer, help better understand the impact of micro- and nano- plastics on health, improve urban wellbeing, address low vaccine uptake and tackle antimicrobial resistance.
Almost €27 million dedicated to cancer research, brain-related and nervous system disorders, and antimicrobial resistance will be matched by participating member states through the ERA-NET co-fund mechanism. The money will fund joint calls for trans-national research and innovation projects.
The European Innovation Council (EIC) today announced 58 winners that will receive a total of €191 million to transform high-risk research into innovative technologies.
Out of the 58 winners that will receive financing from the EU’s newest innovation funding body, 30 per cent of projects will be led by female researchers while 26 per cent will produce green technologies, such a device converting low-grade waste into electricity.
In this funding round, the EIC received a total of 902 applications for its pathfinder grants which enable researchers and entrepreneurs to turn ideas into innovative technologies. Innovators Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and Switzerland submitted the highest number of successful applications.
The Informal Group of the Italian Representation Offices in Brussels (GIURI) is calling on EU policymakers to ensure the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, is ambitious enough to address current and future challenges.
The group’s statement highlights “the worrying extent of the cuts related to the R&I budget” made by EU leaders in July. The cuts are not limited to Horizon Europe, the group argues, and have impacted the entire R&I landscape, including other EU programmes, such as InvestEU, Digital Europe and EU4Health.
Four in five projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the EU’s basic research funding body, resulted in scientific breakthroughs or made major scientific advances.
An independent study found that 18 per cent of ERC projects made scientific breakthroughs, while another 61.9 per cent made major advances. The remaining 20 per cent was made up of 17.6 per cent of projects that made ‘an incremental scientific contribution’ and 2.5 per cent that provided no clear scientific cotribution.
“It proves that the EU’s investment in frontier research, through the ERC, pays off greatly and that Europe needs more of this - not less, as we fear after the July EU summit,” said interim ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, referring to the cuts to the EU research budget EU leaders made in July.
The findings align with previous studies which found that 72 to 79 per cent of ERC studies made scientific breakthroughs or major scientific advances.
The results of the study have been published in the middle of heated negotiations over the EU’s budget for research and innovation over the next seven years. The ERC is trying to convince member states of its added value and to agree on rounding up its budget to levels proposed by the European Commission in 2018.
The European Investment Fund (EIF), an EU agency providing financing to SMEs, signed its first six agreements with equity funds to help finance artificial intelligence and blockchain projects around Europe.
The extra investment in six equity funds in Austria, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands is expected to bring €700 million of additional funding to European tech companies, enabling them to deliver promising applications of AI and blockchain in smart cities, automation, language, machine learning and cybersecurity.
Ahead of the next round of budget negotiations on Wednesday, the Coimbra Group, a university association, is urging EU policymakers to reach an agreement that ensures “ensures appropriate funding is allocated” to Europe’s research and education programmes, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.
The European Parliament is currently negotiating with the Council for a bigger budget for research and education than EU member states agreed on in July. The time to reach an agreement before the foreseen start of the next budget cycle in 2021 is running out, however, member states have thus far not agreed to give the two programmes any top ups.
France and Germany announced a joint funding call for AI research as part of a new Franco-German artificial intelligence research and innovation network.
The two countries will fund joint projects investigating how distributed, green, trustworthy or hybrid AI can address mobility, energy, environmental, health and other societal challenges.
“We are thus creating a further prerequisite for our two countries to be at the forefront of AI development and for a trustworthy 'AI made in Europe'," said German research minister Anja Karliczek.
France and Germany signed the roadmap for creating a joint AI research and innovation network in October 2019, and six months later signed a letter of intent to further strengthen and promote their cooperation in AI research.
Four European railway associations sent a letter to the European Commission calling for a budget of €1.5 billion for the upcoming public-private partnership for railway research, Transforming Europe’s Rail System.
The associations argue that railways “will be the backbone of an efficient and sustainable European mobility”. The partnership would help ensure this by producing market-ready digital and automated railways technologies in line with the Europe’s green objectives and facilitating their deployment.
The commission is currently assessing the partnership proposal, dated July 2020, and is expected to assign a budget in the coming months. The partnership will be funded through the EU's next research programme, Horizon Europe, and contributions from industry partners.