20 Nov 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.

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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.

 

The European Universities Association (EUA) today released a report suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on universities which will need adequate support from public authorities to weather the crisis.

The report says universities suffered immediate losses due to the interruption of services, research contracts and international student recruitment. At the same, they now need to invest in better digital infrastructure for online learning and to adapt campuses to new health regulations.

“There are high levels of uncertainty and great concern in projections about future income from both public and private sources,” said Thomas Estermann, the EUA’s director of governance, funding and public policy development. “However, on a positive note, greater trust in universities due to their prominent role in crisis recovery is an asset – and we can capitalise on that.” 

 

The European Commission today launched the Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity, a new one-stop shop for latest science on biodiversity.

The knowledge centre, led by the commission’s science hub, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), will make available the latest science on biodiversity, enabling science to shape on EU policy and helping monitor the implementation of the EU biodiversity strategy.

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel said the new centre will “help the European and global research community and policymakers to harvest and make sense of the vast array of information available, streamlining it into effective policies that protect Europe’s ecosystems and the services they provide for European citizens".

 

EuroHPC, a public-private partnership that pools EU resources to buy and deploy supercomputers, acquired LUMI, a pre-exascale supercomputer capable of running more than 375 million billion calculations per second.

The supercomputer will be produced by American IT multinational, Hewlett Packard, and deployed in Kajaani, Finland in mid-2021.

This is the second supercomputer EuroHPC has acquired in the past week. On Monday, the partnership announced they had procured Leonardo, a supercomputer to be deployed in Bologna, Italy by the end of next year.

The EU is planning to acquire more supercomputers for research centres in Bulgaria, Spain, and Portugal before the end of the year.

  

The European Parliament’s Horizon Europe rapporteur, Christian Ehler, says the cuts to EU funds for research, innovation, health and climate are impeding Europe’s ability to step into the next decade.

In a joint statement released this week, Ehler argues the current EU budget agreement will not allow Europe to catch up with its competitors US and China, impede growth, kill off Europe’s ambition to reduce CO2 emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, hamper its ability to tackle pandemics, and undermine research and education.

The statement was also signed by the vice-presidents of the European Research Council, Eveline Crone, Janet Thornton and Fabio Zwirner, the European University Association, the League of European Research Universities, Science Europe, and the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations.

In July, EU leaders agreed on a reduced budget of €80.9 billion for the EU's next research programme, Horizon Europe, significantly less than the €94.4 billion proposed by the European Commission in May. The parliament is currently fighting to reverse the cuts before the start of the next seven-year EU budget cycle in 2021.

 

Jean-Claude Juncker, former European Commission president, says he is appalled by the cuts made by the European Council to the budgets of the EU’s research and education programmes, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

“I am appalled by these blunders caused by the harmful influence of the Frugal Four,” said Juncker, referring to the EU’s most frugal countries, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden

In an interview with the EU policy research centre, the Robert Schuman Foundation, Juncker said he was dismayed by the lack of ambition shown by EU governments, failing to reflect their “virtuous words”. “This is not Europe,’ he argued.

In July, EU leaders slashed the research budget from a proposed €94.4 billion to €80.9 billion and cut the funding for Erasmus+ down to €21.2 billion, about €5 billion less than foreseen by the commission. The European Parliament is currently fighting to reverse the cuts but the council has been unwilling to compromise despite limited time before the foreseen start of the EU’s next budget cycle, 2021.

 

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