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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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.”

 

Members of the European Parliament are dismayed after research ministers yesterday adopted the final details of the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, backing the 10 billion budget cut agreed by EU leaders in July.

“What the Council is proposing means 22.500 less researchers supported, the loss of 400 patents representing 110 inventions, the loss of 5 500 testing activates and 220 clinical trials,” said Horizon Europe rapporteur Dan Nica.

The chair of the parliament’s industry committee, Christian Busoi, said that research and innovation are key to Europe’s recovery and its ability to address major challenges, such fighting climate change, cancer and antimicrobial-resistance “but to achieve all these ambitions we require an equally ambitious budget.”

 

MEP Christian Ehler is dismayed with the EU’s research ministers who yesterday agreed on the last details of the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, approving a ‘savage’ €10 billion cut to its budget as proposed by EU leaders in July.

The final Horizon Europe deal is now ready to be negotiated with the European Parliament, however, Ehler warns MEPs are not willing to accept the cuts to the EU’s research budget and will demand an increase in funding.

He notes Europe is already lagging behind in terms of research and innovation funding, spending only 2 per cent of its GDP on R&I while its competitors China and the US both spend over 3 per cent. "Based on this, the parliament is not willing to compromise, having in mind the disastrous consequences this will have for innovation and growth," said Ehler.

 

The Horizon Europe mission on fighting cancer addresses almost every aspect of cancer thus undermining the mission’s focus on research, argues EU-LIFE, an association of research centres.

While all aspects of cancer are relevant, the mission’s plans fail to focus on essential research by spreading the means thin on aims like supporting the relatives of cancer survivors and ensuring EU-wide access to cancer prevention.

The association urges the commission to narrow the focus of the mission to a limited number of research topics and to develop supportive policies and actions outside of the EU's research programme, Horizon Europe, based on the rest of the plans.

The cancer mission is one of the EU’s five first-of-their-kind research moonshots aimed at giving fresh impetus to solving big societal challenges. Its main aim is to save more than three million lives by 2030 and to ensure survivors live longer and better.

Last year, the commission tasked a board of experts with drawing up plans for the research moonshot, which they handed to the commission last week. In the coming weeks, the commission will evaluate their proposal and set a budget. Then, the board will refine their plans accordingly. Until a budget is set, it remains impossible to tell how realistic the proposal is, notes the association's statement.

 

Swiss voters have voted to keep their free movement of people agreement with the EU, clearing the way for the country to settle a new trade relationship with Brussels.

In a referendum on Sunday, 61.71 percent of voters rejected a proposal to limit migration from EU countries. Scientists were among the strongest opponents of the referendum, which they said risked a deepening of the economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a loss of access to EU research programmes.

“We can’t do experiments in a crisis,” said Petra Studer, coordinator of Netzwerk Future, a body representing higher education, research and innovation organisations at the Swiss Parliament.

She said that Swiss voters already suffering in the pandemic had seen the huge uncertainty caused by Brexit, and “didn’t want to go down the same route”. 

Swiss politicians will now try put relations with Brussels on a new footing. Like the UK, Switzerland is in its own difficult negotiation with the EU, being asked to endorse a new treaty that would require it to routinely adopt single market rules.

The EU views this as merely updating and simplifying the Swiss arrangement, which spans a complex web of more than 120 bilateral deals. But the new treaty also includes demands that the Swiss soften rules protecting wages, the highest in Europe, from cross-border competition by EU workers on temporary assignments.

As part of this new trade relationship, Swiss politicians will hope that the vote result strengthens their hand in negotiating access to the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe. So far, Brussels has been playing hardball with the Swiss, threatening to block the country from accessing the full programme, which starts next year.

 

The European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s three knowledge and innovation communities (KICs) today signed an agreement to join efforts in nurturing Europe’s innovation ecosystem.

“We intend to design and implement together a fully-fledged, open systemic and structural cooperation between the EIC and the first wave EIT KICs both operationally and financially,” said Jean-David Malo, the director of the EIC.

EU research commissioner called the agreement between the EU’s two innovation agencies “a steppingstone in creating the European Innovation Area”.

A working group made up of representatives of both agencies is currently working on finding ways how they could best collaborate. Speaking at an EU Research and Innovation Days session on Tuesday, EIC board member Marja Makarov said potential measures include giving EIT supported start-ups easier access to EIC Accelerator grants.

While only three KICs, Climate, Digital and Innovative Energy, signed the agreement today, collaborations between the EIC and the EIT's five other KICs will be launched in the future.

 

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