27 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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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. 

 

The EU Council is asking the European Commission and member states to set up an agenda for tackling key research policy issues and develop a multi-level governance model in 2021 for the new European Research Area (ERA).

In yesterday’s conclusions on the new ERA, the Council says there is need to translate the goals of the new ERA, such as increased national investment in research and closer international collaboration, into concrete action that enhance the attractiveness of research careers, create synergies between different EU funding programmes, strengthen academic freedom, link the new ERA with the EU’s agenda for higher education, increase investments in research infrastructures, and mainstream open science.

Meanwhile, new governance model should be multi-level, involving regional authorities, R&I stakeholders and civil society from all EU member states. It should also be link up with Horizon Europe and include a monitoring system with renewed indicators and reporting measures, the document says.

The conclusions follow the commission’s communication from September that set out a roadmap for the revamped ERA and will serve as basis for the discussions on its implementation in the council.

 

Sweden will contribute €30 million, or 300 million Swedish Krona, over the next two years to enable technological innovations in developing countries along the entire value chain of energy-intensive industries.

The funding will be channelled through the World Bank’s $8 billion climate financing mechanism, the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), to help industries in developing countries carve out climate strategies and develop innovations.

“By helping other countries develop their roadmaps to fossil fuel freedom, we can accelerate progress towards zero emissions in the whole world,” said the country’s minister for environment and climate, Isabella Lövin.

 

An open letter published on Friday is urging EU policymakers to adopt measures aimed at helping young researchers deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The demands include extending the duration of projects, adjusting deadlines for the attainment of qualification, better conditions for work and family life, ensuring equal access to laboratories and other facilities, investing in e-tools, and promoting online events that provide researchers with opportunities.

The letter was signed by MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho, Lidia Borrell-Damián, the secretary general of Science Europe, and Mostafa Moonir Shawrav, the chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association. Earlier this month, the three signatories discussed some of the issues facing young researchers in a panel during the Marie Curie Alumni Association conference.

 

The European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, is inviting businesses, associations, civil society groups and EU staff to submit nominations for the third biennial ‘Award for Good Administration’.

The award honours the staff in all EU institutions, agencies, and bodies for demonstrating excellence in open administration, communications, and crisis management. Nominations are open until the end of January 2021.

Last year’s winners were DG Environment and DG GROW at the European Commission, who were nominated for their comprehensive strategy for reducing plastics pollution and raising awareness about single-use plastics.

 

This morning EU research ministers will discuss the plans for reviving the European Research Area (ERA) and the ongoing Horizon Europe negotiations in an informal online meeting.

The meeting will kick off with a policy debate on spending targets for the new ERA that the European Commission proposed in September. “I really want to kickstart this debate process to define clear investment targets and benchmarks,” said Germany’s research minister Anja Karliczek, who will be chairing the meeting. “These benchmarks should help us to identify specific needs and then also monitor progress more effectively.”

Discussing the state of play of Horizon Europe, the ministers will address the importance of preventing a delay to the launch of the programme, noted Karliczek. They will also discuss the negotiations on the renewed framework for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

The commission and the German presidency will then inform the ministers on the progress on establishing the European Open Science Cloud, setting up public-private partnerships under Horizon Europe and the latest scientific opinion on improving the EU’s pandemic preparedness and management.

 

The heads of Europe’s six major science organisations, the G6, are urging policymakers to allocate the newly negotiated €4 billion Horizon Europe top-up to financing fundamental research.

A significant proportion of the top-up should be allocated to the pillar of the programme supporting fundamental research, while the rest should finance big collaborative projects in fundamental research, the group believes.

“By doing so, the EU would demonstrate to its research communities, to its citizens and to its partners in the world the strength of its scientific ambitions and its determination to devote all the necessary resources to them,” the joint statement says.

EU university associations have also been calling for the top-up money to finance fundamental research, however, the European Parliament has indicated they plan to distribute the money across all three pillars of the EU’s research programme as per the provisional Horizon Europe agreement from April 2019.

The G6 members are the heads of the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association, Max Planck Society, Italy’s National Research Council (CNR), The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

 

The European Commission today announced its proposal for new data governance rules, which seek to facilitate data sharing in the EU.

As the first deliverable of the commission’s data strategy announced in February, the Data Governance Act will serve as a basis for future open data spaces, pools of voluntarily shared data that companies and research organisations will be able to access in different EU countries under similar conditions.

“The data governance act is an important milestone to boost the data-driven economy in Europe,” said EU executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager. “It is about creating the right conditions, so that if people want to share data, they can do so in a trustful way.”

The proposal contains three elements. First, it outlines rules for safely sharing sensitive data held by public bodies. Second, it charts the way for establishing ‘data brokers’, which are companies connecting data holders and users. Third, it creates a framework for easier voluntary data sharing for the public good, such as the sharing of one's medical data for research projects.

The new rules are the first of many proposals the commission is planning to announce in the coming months as part of the new data strategy.

 

The European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) says policymakers must use the newly negotiated €4 billion Horizon Europe top-up to fund collaborative research.

The extra funding should support research and innovation that contributes to solving global challenges and boosting Europe’s industrial competitiveness, which will aid the EU’s green and digital transitions, the association believes.

EARTO’s statement was also retweeted by EuropaBio, the European association of bioindustries, expressing support for the call for stronger collaborative research.

The push for more collaborative research funding is at odds with the universities’ calls for the top-up money to be allocated to basic research. Meanwhile, the European Parliament has said the money will be distributed across all three pillars of the research programme as was agreed in the provisional Horizon Europe agreement in April 2019.

The €4 billion was added to Horizon Europe earlier this month following intense budget negotiations. The final budget deal, which foresees €84,9 billion (at 2018 prices) for the research programme, must now be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, where it is currently blocked by Hungary and Poland due to the newly added rule of law conditionality.

 

Germany today announced it will double its spending on research aimed at protecting the climate and increasing sustainability to 4 billion over the next five years.

The newly topped up funding is part of the updated Research for Sustainability Strategy that will help the country achieve climate neutrality by 2050, enable emission-free mobility, boost the circular economy and bring structural change to coal regions.

The reinforced programme outlines 25 actions that are central to limiting global warming, mitigating the effects of climate change, and protecting resources and people. New research will be geared at completing these actions and will add to the pool of almost 10,000 projects funded by the programme since 2005.

 

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