25 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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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.

 

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".

 

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