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.

Tips are welcome at [email protected].

 

Germany yesterday selected thirteen joint research projects with Ukrainian researchers as part of a new €11.3 million funding programme aimed at strengthening research in the EU neighbourhood country.

Thirteen proof of concept projects will be funded for twelve months after which four to five projects will be selected to continue their work in a four-year implementation phase.

The programme intends to enable Ukrainian scientists working abroad to carry out their research in their home country by modernising its science ecosystem and creating favourable working conditions.

 

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel today signed an agreement on marine research and innovation cooperation with Morocco.

The document outlines common objectives and areas of cooperation in marine research which will help develop human capital, research training and facilitate scientific exchange as part of the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance launched in 2017.

 

Seventeen EU member states yesterday agreed to cooperate on bolstering Europe’s electronics and embedded systems value chain.

The collaboration will strengthen Europe’s capacity to design and produce next generation processors, which underpin key technologies such as automated cars, medical equipment, AI and mobile phones, therefore helping ensure Europe’s technology sovereignty and competitiveness.

In practice, the hope is to integrate national research and investment plans to make them work more effectively. This will largely build on upcoming Horizon Europe public-private partnerships, such as Key Digital Technologies, the partnership for electronic and photonic component innovation, and the €8 billion EuroHPC partnership that aims to build high-performance computing capacities in Europe, as well as the existing European Processor Initiative, an EU project designing and implementing a roadmap for low-power European processors, and the Important Project of Common European Interest on microelectronics that allows member states to jointly support transnational cooperation projects.

The member states hope to increase investment along the entire value chain, finding resources in the EU’s 750 billion recovery fund and other funding instruments. With 20 per cent of the emergency budget designated to digital transition, up to €145 billion could be invested in processors and semiconductors in the next two to three years.

 

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science hub, Friday launched an observatory for tracking the health of EU soils.  

The new observatory will expand the JRC’s soil data collection capacity from 25,000 locations across the EU to 250,000 by integrating member state monitoring programmes. The EU’s space programme, Copernicus, will also feed satellite images into the database, which can show the extent of vegetation, soil covers and soil loss in urban areas.

The observatory will equip scientists and innovators with the tools to analyse the genetic composition of soils, their antibiotic resistance genes, micro-plastics pollution, and pesticide and antibiotic residues among other pressing research topics.

The collected data will populate the new EU Soil Indicator Dashboard, allowing policymakers and researchers to observe the changes in soils, an often-forgotten resource that is essential to ensuring steady food supply, preserving biodiversity, and reducing pollution. This will serve as the main progress tracker for the Horizon Europe’s upcoming soils mission, a research moon-shot set to launch in 2021 that aims to make 75 per cent of EU soils healthy by 2030.

The observatory will also host the European Soil Forum, bringing together EU agencies, NGOs, farming associations, industry, member states representatives, international organisations, citizens, and different commission services, to address different policy and scientific questions, issue reports, and raise awareness about soil health.

 

Germany today announced a €350 million five-year research programme that aims to develop new technologies to improve healthcare and nursing.

The programme will provide researchers and innovators around €70 million annually to fund the development of technologies for addressing pressing healthcare challenges as part of Germany’s technology strategy for 2025. The first call for projects will be published this afternoon.

 

The European Investment Bank (EIB) yesterday launched a €150 million co-investment fund that will support artificial intelligence companies and contribute to filling Europe’s AI sector investment gap.

Through the fund, over the next four years, the EIB, alongside the European Investment Fund (EIF), will invest in 20 to 30 early and growth-stage SMEs in the EU and Horizon 2020 associated countries.

“If Europe wants to stay competitive and shape the conditions of AI development and use, while ensuring European values are respected, it needs to embrace AI and lead its development. That is why I am very proud of the new instrument we have launched today,” said EIB Vice-President Teresa Czerwińska.

 

The European University Association (EUA) has published a report outlining seventeen key recommendations for developing and implementing the new European Research Area (ERA).

Following the European Commission’s roadmap for revamping the ERA, revealed in September, the university group is urging is EU policymakers to build an inclusive governance system, provide sustainable funding for research, and invest in both basic and applied R&I among other recommendations. All this must be done in consultation with university representatives and other R&I stakeholders, the report notes.

 

Spain today announced a new plan set to help the country’s researchers and innovators secure more funding from the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe.

The plan contains 26 measures that will strengthen research management networks, foster research projects that can add to European programmes, train and deploy staff from the Spanish research ecosystem in European organisations, and help connect science and society.

In Horizon Europe, the goal is for the country’s researchers to lead at least 17 per cent of big project calls, coordinate at least 2,800 projects, secure 11 per cent of funding from the programme, and reach the average EU success rate for project proposals.

Under Horizon 2020, Spain was the fourth best performing country, receiving a total of over 4.7 billion in funding and securing 10.1 per cent of available funding.

 

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is investing €20 million in a Portuguese software company, Bizay, to help finance the implementation of its R&D and product development roadmap.

The money will help digitalise every step of Bizay’s services supplying custom products, such as promotional products and business cards, to SMEs by, for example, using machine learning algorithms for improving marketing efficiency and forecasting future traffic loads.

 

The UK government must make up its mind on whether it will participate in the EU’s research and student exchange programmes, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, after the country’s departure from the single market, a House of Lords inquiry finds.

The current uncertainty over the UK’s continued participation is causing researchers and students to miss out on funding and exchange opportunities. “The lack of certainty on post-Brexit arrangements is providing a real challenge to researchers looking for funding and students seeking to undertake a placement in the next couple of years,” said Rita Donaghy, the chair of the EU Services Sub-Committee in the House of Lords.

However, the inquiry determined that the current EU proposal for the UK’s participation would find the country making a significant contribution to Horizon Europe with little say over how it is administered. 

To ensure the UK does not pay in more than it takes out, the UK has already said it wants a “downward correction mechanism” that would compensate the government if researchers secure less funding from Horizon Europe than expected.

Last week, a UK official told Science|Business that the talks about the future research relationship “hang in the balance” and the final deal will come down to whether the EU can ensure the UK will not end up putting in more than it gets out from the research programme.

But if the country decides not to participate in Horizon Europe, it must ensure its domestic research framework is independently administered, builds on global collaboration, supports SMEs and provides funding for researchers all across the country, the Lords believe. 

 

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