22 Oct 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 [email protected].

 

Former president of the European Research Council (ERC), Helga Nowotny, will lead the search for the next president of the EU’s fundamental research agency to replace interim president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon.

The European Commission today appointed a group of seven experts, chaired by Nowotny, to make recommendations for the most suitable candidate, based on nominations from the scientific community and an open call for applications.

The group is looking for an internationally renowned scientist to become an advocate for frontier research in the EU and to replace French mathematician Bourguignon, who served as the president of the ERC from 2014 to 2019 and recently returned as interim president after his successor, nanobiologist Mauro Ferrari, left after merely three months in office.

The new president should be appointed by the end March 2021 for a term of four years. The deadline for applications and nominations is 20 November 2020.

 

CESAER, a university lobby group, yesterday published a statement urging EU policymakers to place more emphasis on basic research funding as part of the plans for the revival of the European Research Area (ERA).

The association believe too much focus is currently placed on top-down innovation funding, disrupting the balance between fundamental research and technological development.

The European Commission published its plans for reviving the ERA, which is meant to create a single market for research, last week, asking member states to boost national research and innovation spending to at least 1.25 per cent of their GDP.

Welcoming the plans, CESAER also urged the commission to give more concrete proposals on how member states could strengthen their national research support systems and to ensure universities can continue to collaborate with international partners despite the EU’s recent push for technology sovereignty.

 

Portuguese MEP Margarida Marques, the parliament’s co-rapporteur on the multiannual budget, said budget talks have been suspended after the Council of the EU failed to come up with a proposal to increase annual ceilings. 

"Without a credible proposal from the Council on increasing the ceilings it’s impossible to move on," Marques said in a tweet

Earlier this week, Marques said the talks could conclude faster if the council would agree that money from the European Development Fund would be used to increase annual ceilings in the Horizon Europe budget. “We have proposals where the council could work to move towards us on certain points,” said Marques.

 

The European Investment Bank is providing a Polish chemical producer, Rokita, an additional €22.5 million, bringing the bank’s investment in the company’s green innovation plans to €67.5 million.

The funding will help the company carry out innovation projects worth €110.5 million, including building an innovation centre, a demonstration plant, and revamping its production plants to be more environmentally friendly.

The EIB’s investment is part of the Juncker Plan, an EU programme that mobilises investment into strategic sectors of Europe’s economy. Since 2014, the Juncker Plan has crowded in €22.3 billion in investments in Poland and a total of €514 billion across Europe.

 

The European Investment Bank (EIB) today announced it will loan €15 million to MMI, an Italian company specialising in robotic system that enables surgeons to better perform delicate microsurgeries.

The funding will support the company’s long-term financial and innovation strategy in preparation of the commercial launch of its robotic system, which includes the world’s smallest wristed microinstruments for surgery as well as tremor reducing and motion scaling technologies.

The loan is funded through the EIB and the European Commission’s SME and start-up funding project, the Investment Plan for Europe, which has so far mobilised €535 billion of investment across the EU, including €79.4 billion in Italy, where it has directly invested €12.5 billion since 2015.

 

University College London on Monday announced that Carlos Moedas, the EU’s research commissioner from 2014 to 2019, would be joining as a visiting professor. He will also join the advisory board of the university’s European Institute.

The appointment will allow the university, which has grown into one of Europe’s biggest recipients of EU research funding, close access to the chief figure behind the bloc’s next big research programme, Horizon Europe. The UK government is currently negotiating full membership to the programme as part of wider trade talks with Brussels.

Moedas is currently a trustee for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a Portuguese institution focused on the arts, charity, education, and science, and is a board member for the Jacques Delors Institute, a think tank.

 

Manufacturing associations say the pandemic recovery fund should allocate “a substantial share to sustainable and digital manufacturing” to reinforce Made in Europe and EIT manufacturing.

In a letter to EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel, the chairs of Manufuture, the European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA) and the CEO of EIT Manufacturing say more R&D funding is “urgently needed” to develop the next generation of innovation-based manufacturing companies. “If we play the cards right, the challenges ahead of us could be exploited to strengthen Europe’s lead in manufacturing innovation,” the letter reads.

The letter: Letter-COM-Gabriel_02-10-2020.pdf

 

The UK's chief Brexit trade negotiator David Frost has said that the “outlines of an agreement are visible” for the “participation in EU programmes”, including Horizon Europe, the EU’s next big research programme. However, the EU insists “serious divergences” remain in other key areas, which could ultimately block a deal on research.

Following the latest and last round of scheduled talks with the EU, which ended Friday, Frost said, “In many areas, although differences remain, the outlines of an agreement are visible. This is true of most of the core areas of a trade and economic agreement – notably trade in goods and services, transport, energy, social security, and participation in EU programmes,” he said.

In his own statement, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said discussion on participation in EU programmes was one of the “points of convergence” between the sides. In other areas, such as post-Brexit fishing rules, there remained “serious divergences”. 

The UK’s Frost acknowledged that there are still differences "that are fundamental" to UK "status as an independent country”. Frost said there had been “limited progress” on state aid and governance, warning, “the EU need to move further before an understanding can be reached”.

UK membership of Horizon Europe depends on a positive outcome in talks overall. While Brussels fights London on fish and state aid, UK science figures and officials have started debating aloud whether the cost of joining the 2021-2027 research programme will prove too high.

To move talks along, prime minister Boris Johnson will hold discussions with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday, with both sides hoping it will help clinch a last-minute deal.

 

Poland will invest €71 million from the EU’s regional development fund to improve cooperation between its research centres and enhance the quality of academic research.

The funding will be used to establish a fibre-optic network and provide 21 research centres with equipment in fields such as data transmission and storage, atomic clocks, smart cities, e-learning and multi-scale simulation.

 

Welcoming the European Commission’s newly announced plans for reviving the European Research Area (ERA), Marc Schiltz, the president of Science Europe, an association of research organisations and funders, said national investment will be key to the initiatives' success.

“In particular, more joint programmes and partnerships would rationalise the use of public R&I funds, and these can be shaped based on successful collaborations that already exist,” said Schiltz.

Lidia Borrell-Damián, the secretary general of the association, noted that “for the new ERA to succeed, it will be crucial to design a governance system and discussion fora in which research stakeholders, that shape and implement ERA on the ground, are meaningfully included.”

 

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