15 Jan 2021

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.

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E3G, a climate change think tank, today published its recommendations for a new EU research and innovation strategy that would be able to support Europe’s transition towards climate neutrality by 2050.

“Given the scale of the challenge, ensuring EU R&I policy acts as enabler to achieving climate neutrality therefore requires a new EU R&I strategy – as opposed to a collection of initiatives,” the think tank’s paper reads.

E3G proposes three design principles for the new strategy: it should aim for a system-level change, ensure the transition is socially and geographically inclusive, and leverage EU’s research and innovation to help other countries transition towards climate neutrality.

 

The European Energy Research Alliance yesterday sent a letter asking EU policymakers to ensure Europe can reach its climate goals by reversing the recent cuts to the EU's next research programme, Horizon Europe.

Addressing EU policymakers who are currently negotiating the size of the EU’s next seven-year budget, the alliance called for a research budget of €94.4 billion, as per the European Commission’s proposal from May.

The cuts "may jeopardize EU long-term objectives of advancing the green and digital transition in Europe and its ambitions of becoming worldwide leader in a new green and sustainable economy," the letter said.

In addition to a higher research budget, the alliance urged EU leaders to maintain the budget earmarked for climate and energy action in Horizon Europe at the level proposed by the commission irrespective of the final research budget deal.

 

The Guild, a group of twenty research-intensive universities, today published a new call for increased financing of fundamental research under the EU’s next seven-year research programme, Horizon Europe.

The budget for Horizon Europe is currently being negotiated by EU policymakers, and once agreed, it will be split between the different parts of the programme. The Guild hopes the parts supporting fundamental research, such as the European Research Council (ERC), the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) and research infrastructures, will have their share of the programme increased from the 27 per cent that they are currently foreseen.

“Failing to invest adequately in these programmes could send a negative signal to the best research talent in Europe, and at worst result in brain drain to countries with better funded research systems,” reads the group’s statement.

The Guild also urges policymakers to allocate funding for fundamental research from the Horizon Europe’s €5 billion share of the EU’s three-year recovery package, Next Generation EU, “to study the social and health aspects of the crisis”.

 

Germany, which holds the current presidency of the EU, and Australia announced they will launch a feasibility study into the development of a clean hydrogen supply chain between the two countries later this year.

Both countries have adopted their own hydrogen strategies which chart the way to widespread rollout of clean hydrogen, replacing fossil fuels.

The 24-month study that will test whether setting up a supply chain between the two countries is doable will cost over €1.5 million and help advance both countries’ hydrogen strategies.

 

The European Parliament’s centre-right group, the European People’s Party, today appointed its representatives to the new special committees on beating cancer and artificial intelligence.

Belgian MEP Cindy Franssen will be the group coordinator on the beating cancer committee, while French MEP Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé will be the vice-coordinator.

On the AI committee, Bulgarian MEP Eva Maydell, who is also a member of the committee on industry and research, will lead the coordination efforts with the help of vice-coordinator Estonian MEP Riho Terras.

The committee on beating cancer will work on legislation and measures to help prevent and fight cancer and support research, while the committee on AI will propose a roadmap for the objectives of future AI legislation. The new committees were set up in June and will start work next week.

 

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.

 

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