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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A new monitoring system will provide data for policymakers on the progress towards the targets set in the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, which aims to accelerate the development of a sustainable European bioeconomy.

The EU Bioeconomy Monitoring System, developed by the European Commission’s science hub, the Joint Research Council, and embedded in its Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy, will track the deployment of more sustainable and circular solutions for the use of biological resources from land and sea around the EU.

 

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (RTD) will be joined by two new directors, Rosalinde van der Vlies and Irene Norstedt.

Van der Vlies will be the new director of the “Clean Planet” portfolio. Previously, she held various positions in DG RTD and served as the deputy-head of cabinet for the former environment commissioner, Janez Potočnik.

Norstedt was appointed director for the “People” directorate in DG RTD. She has served as an acting director in this position for the past two years. She has also served as head of unit for economic and social transition. In the health directorate, she was the head of the personalised medicine unit and served as an acting director for the public-private partnership, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

 

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel yesterday appointed three new members to the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA) to aid policymaking by providing independent scientific opinions.

The new members are Maarja Kruusmaa, the vice-rector for research at the Tallinn University of Technology and a visiting professor with the Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology; Alberto Melloni, a professor of history of Christianity at University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, who is also the secretary of the Foundation for Religious Studies and a chair holder at the UNESCO Chair on Religious Pluralism and Peace; and Nebojsa Nakicenovic, the director of The World in 2050, a research initiative that supports the implementation of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda, and the director general of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Together with the rest of the GCSA, for the next three years, the new members will advise policymakers on the biodegradability of plastics in the open environment, taking a systematic approach to the energy transition, and resilience to crises, such as pandemics.

On the same day, Nicole Grobert, a professor of nanomaterials at the University of Oxford, and Paul Nurse, the director of the biomedical research centre, Francis Crick Institute, who received a Nobel prize in medicine in 2011, have been elected as the new chair and deputy-chair of the group.

 

The European Commission has extended the deadline for submitting nominations and applications for the next president of the European Research Council until 30 November.

 

A division of European aerospace multinational Airbus has been selected to lead a new land surface temperature monitoring mission as part of Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation programme.

The mission aims to monitor global land surface temperature day and night by measuring evapotranspiration – the level of water vapour emitted by plants as they grow.

The collected data will help European farmers work more sustainably by allowing to calculate in real time how much water different plants require in different areas and how often they need to be irrigated.

As part of the mission expected to cost €380 million, Airbus Defence and Space will design and build one new satellite, with another two satellites potentially constructed and launched at a later date.

 

EU-LIFE, an alliance of life sciences research institutes, welcomes the new Horizon Europe budget deal and urges policymakers to allocate appropriate funds within the programme to fundamental research.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament and the Council agreed on a €4 billion top-up for the EU’s research programme. Now, within Horizon Europe, the group wants policymakers to allocate more funds to basic research through the European Research Council (ERC) and the mobility programme, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA).

“In particular, the pandemic showed us how important it is to rely on a solid basis of frontier research to tackle the huge challenges we are collectively facing,” says the group’s statement. ”Obviously, the current agreement does not mirror this fact.”

 

Kurt Deketelaere, the secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), says the final EU budget deal shows that policymaker’s support for research is ‘pure rhetoric’.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament and the Council agreed to increase the funding for the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, by €4 billion. “The outcome is peanuts,” said Deketelaere.

The final budget of the research programme will be €84,9 billion (2018 prices) compared with €74,2 billion that was invested in the current programme, Horizon 2020. The budget is more or less the same, says Deketelaere, but “this is now nicely and deliberately camouflaged by this top up of uncertain sources like competition fines (€4 billion) and the ring-fenced contribution of Next Generation EU (€5 billion).”

 

After a decade of research budget cuts, the Spanish government today increased the budget of the country’s flagship annual research call to €412 million.

The extra €50 million in funding compared with 2019 will help transform Spain’s research system and attract talent as part of the country’s €1 billion research and innovation 'shock' plan announced in July.

The call will fund basic and applied research projects carried out by researchers at various stages of their careers. Young scientists who are not affiliated or have temporary contracts with research organisations will be allocated special funds to act as principal investigators on applied research projects. The Spanish government hopes the initiative geared at early career scientists will help attract and retain talent in the country’s research ecosystem.

 

The European Commission today published an R&D agenda for circular plastics as part of the first set of actions of the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA), which aims to boost the reuse of recycled plastics in the EU.

The research agenda is meant to help the commission-backed alliance of 245 public and private organisations to boost the EU market for recycled plastics to 10 million tonnes by 2025.

The first version of the agenda covers seven strategic research needs from quicker scale-up and deployment of chemical recycling to enable more plastic materials to be reclaimed to developing better technology for separating different layers of plastic products before recycling. It also outlines some specific actions directed at reuse of plastics in agriculture, the automotive industry and construction.

The agenda was published together with a future work plan and a report on the state of play on plastic waste collection and sorting in the EU.  Next year, as part of the research agenda, the alliance hopes to map the funding needs and analyse the untapped potential in rubbish collection, sorting and recycling.

 

There was no breakthrough Monday night as a long day of haggling over the EU budget ended in Brussels.

But negotiators from the European Parliament said they were optimistic that sealing a deal for more money for Horizon Europe, the EU’s 2021-2027 research programme, would be the outcome of talks tomorrow with the European Council, the body representing the 27 EU countries.

“We are very close to a good agreement,” said José Fernandes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament’s budgets committee.

Parliamentarians are trying to walk back cuts made to research in July, when research ministers settled on €80.9 billion (at 2018 prices) for Horizon Europe, significantly less than €94.4 billion proposed by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. The talks are part of the bloc’s multi-year €1.8 trillion budget and COVID-19 recovery package.

On Twitter Monday, “Rescue Horizon Europe” trended, with researchers venting their frustration over the proposed cuts. “I wonder what would happen if all scientists in Europe would put down their work for 24 [hours] during the pandemic (including the ones working on vaccines and testing) to signal that current plans for science funding by the EU Council is an active threat to our future?” tweeted Carlos Ribeiro, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Foundation in Portugal.

After more than 10 hours of talks Monday, participants said they were edging closer to a deal. “Looking forward to (hopefully) the finalisation tomorrow,” tweeted Green MEP Rasmus Andresen. 

 

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