17 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.

 

The European Working Group of Innovation Consultants (EWGIC), a group of EU research and innovation experts, this week issued fifteen recommendation advising the European Commission how to better select which deep-tech starts-ups it should fund.

The group believe the European Innovation Council (EIC), the EU’s new tech start-up funding body, “has fallen victim to its popularity” after the applicant success rate for the programme fell below 1 per cent. With many high-quality applications submitted in each funding round, start-ups need “a fair amount of luck” to succeed in getting funding.

To make the selection more objective, the EWGIC recommends having different evaluators for the two stages of evaluation of the same proposal, establishing clearer guidelines for them, and evaluating the evaluators. All fifteen recommendation can be found here.

 

EBRAINS, a digital research infrastructure for brain science and the child of one of the largest-ever EU-funded research programmes, the Human Brain Project, has applied to be one of the Europe’s big research labs receiving funding under Horizon Europe.

The platform’s application to the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), a committee that recommends which research labs should get funding under the infrastructure part of the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, was led by France and supported by nine other European countries.

EBRAINS offers scientists tools and resources for neuroscience research developed by the €1 billion EU flagship brain science programme, the Human Brain Project, launched in 2013 and set to finish in 2023.

 

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) yesterday announced the winners of its COVID-19 Crisis Response Initiative, awarding €60 million to 62 innovation projects and 145 entrepreneurs from 32 countries.

The winning projects will help address challenges posed by the crisis in all eight of the EIT’s focus areas: health, digitisation, food, urban mobility, manufacturing, climate, raw materials and sustainable energy.

 

If success rates in European Research Council (ERC) competitions continues to decrease, Europe could see a wave of researchers leaving to other parts of the world, the rector of the University of Bergen has warned.

Speaking during a press conference with fellow university heads and researchers at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) on Thursday, Dag Rune Olsen said "there will be a serious risk for brain drain" if the ERC fails to fund enough researchers.

Olsen is part of a broader effort to safeguard the budget of the science funder, after EU leaders have agreed to a slimmed-down budget for Europe's flagship research and innovation programme in July. 

Earlier this week, the ERC reported a 42 per cent increase in advanced grant applications in 2020 to date, compared to 2019. Greater demand for ERC grants means the success rate for applicants will go down and many excellent projects will not get funded. "If the success rate drops below 10 per cent you have a funding instrument that really fails to invest in research," Olsen said. "I am pretty sure we will experience of brain drain from Europe."

Olsen said Europe’s share of global production of knowledge will diminish, with significant consequences for innovation and industrial leadership, if policymakers will fail to strengthen R&D budgets.

 

The European Research Council today announced the winners of its Starting Grants for early-career researchers, who will receive a total of €677 million to build teams and carry out research in host institutions across Europe.

The 436 grants will create around 2,500 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff working on research projects in the fields of life sciences, physical sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities.

The grantees will carry out projects in host institutions in 25 countries across Europe, with 88 grants sending researchers to Germany, 62 to the UK, 42 to the Netherlands and 38 to France as top locations.

 

Jean Pierre Bourguignon, interim president of the European Research Council (ERC) has warned of "a bitter fight between various components" of the Horizon Europe programme, as stakeholders are unhappy with the budget agreed by EU leaders in July.

"My battle is to get a bigger budget overall not just for ERC," Bourguignon said during a panel at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) on Thursday.

However, Bourguignon said "there will be a very tough battle" for cash between the ERC and other parts of Horizon Europe if the budget remains as proposed in July. "We do not know who is going to win," he said. 

 

 

At a European Parliament budget committee meeting today, Mark Roth, the German minister for Europe, told MEPs he cannot “see any room for manoeuvre when it comes to major changes in the amounts” allocated to different EU programmes in the EU's next seven-year budget deal that is currently under negotiations.

Speaking on behalf of the council, Roth said the parliament’s strong will to ensure a sufficient budget for the EU is appreciated but admitted “certain voices in the council found it hard to accept this stance.”

The parliament’s stance includes opposing cuts to the budget of Horizon Europe, which was slashed from proposed €94.4 billion (in 2018 prices) to €80.9 billion across the seven-year budget and the recovery fund. However, opposing the parliament's position, Roth argued that the budget is still almost 25 per cent higher than it is in the current framework.

But many MEPs remain unconvinced. “We cannot necessarily comprehend some of the reasoning when it comes to the cuts that have been proposed,” said German green MEP Rasmus Andresen.

Last week, the council, the parliament and the commission started negotiations on the seven-year budget deal reached by EU leaders in July. The German presidency hopes to find an agreement on the budget deal by the end of September to leave sufficient time for preparations before the new budget cycle starts in 2021.

 

The European Commission today selected 74 research consortia that will receive a total of 80 million to exchange staff, enabling researchers and innovators to work together and share knowledge while tackling global challenges.

The funding, part of the EU’s Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) programme, will allow 823 organisations from 137 countries to exchange around 4,000 staff members, such as post-level doctoral fellows, technicians, managerial and administrative staff.

 

The European Commission today launched a call for ideas asking citizens for feedback and suggestions for the five European research moon-shots to be launched in 2021.

The commission is inviting citizens to have a say in the shaping of all five Horizon Europe mission areas: adapting to climate change, fighting cancer, building climate-neutral, healthy oceans and healthy soils.

The plans for the missions are currently being drafted by the mission boards, panels of independent experts tasked with making recommendation for the first of their kind European research moon-shots. The boards handed their initial proposals for the programmes in June. In the next step of the preparations for the launch of the missions, the boards' final proposals will be presented together with the results of the freshly announced call for ideas at the European Research and Innovation Days on 22-24 September.

 

At a budget committee meeting at the European Parliament today, Bjorn Hansen, the chief of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), told MEPs that EU agencies must be allocated adequate financing for the work they are mandated to carry out in the next seven-year budget cycle.

“The overall budgetary squeeze that we expect or have seen on a number of agencies simply means that we need to be given less tasks,” Hansen told MEPs, speaking on behalf of all EU agencies, bodies separate from the EU institutions, specialising in carrying out specific tasks.

This includes research-oriented agencies, such as the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the Research Executive Agency, and the European Research Council, which gives grants to fundamental research projects and has garnered significant support from the science community in its fight for a higher budget.

Responding to Hansen, Henrike Hahn, a green German MEP, said “the agencies are doing extremely important work” and “should be equipped with adequate financial and human resources” rather than have their budgets cut.

Nicolas Herbst, a conservative German MEP, agreed it was important to support the EU agencies that contribute to EU priority areas. “Unfortunately, the heads of state did not seize this opportunity,” he said.

Bjorn also argued that EU agencies should have more flexibility in how they spend their money: “sometimes work shifts faster than policy does, and resources need to shift accordingly.”

Together with the European Commission and the Council, the parliament is currently negotiating changes to the budget deal reached by EU leaders in July and can a have a say in the financing allocated to different EU agencies.

 

Subscribe to Live Blog Entries