22 Oct 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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At a budget committee meeting at the European Parliament today, Bjorn Hansen, the chief of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), told MEPs that EU agencies must be allocated adequate financing for the work they are mandated to carry out in the next seven-year budget cycle.

“The overall budgetary squeeze that we expect or have seen on a number of agencies simply means that we need to be given less tasks,” Hansen told MEPs, speaking on behalf of all EU agencies, bodies separate from the EU institutions, specialising in carrying out specific tasks.

This includes research-oriented agencies, such as the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the Research Executive Agency, and the European Research Council, which gives grants to fundamental research projects and has garnered significant support from the science community in its fight for a higher budget.

Responding to Hansen, Henrike Hahn, a green German MEP, said “the agencies are doing extremely important work” and “should be equipped with adequate financial and human resources” rather than have their budgets cut.

Nicolas Herbst, a conservative German MEP, agreed it was important to support the EU agencies that contribute to EU priority areas. “Unfortunately, the heads of state did not seize this opportunity,” he said.

Bjorn also argued that EU agencies should have more flexibility in how they spend their money: “sometimes work shifts faster than policy does, and resources need to shift accordingly.”

Together with the European Commission and the Council, the parliament is currently negotiating changes to the budget deal reached by EU leaders in July and can a have a say in the financing allocated to different EU agencies.

 

Rik Van de Walle, the president of CESAER, a university lobby group, today sent a letter urging members of the European Parliament to negotiate higher budgets for the EU’s research and education programmes, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

Van de Walle, in the letter addressed to the co-rapporteurs steering the EU’s recovery plans through the parliament, said the cuts to the two programmes proposed by the European Council in July were “not only counterproductive, but outright harmful, and must be reversed”.

Urging the co-rapporteurs to negotiate a higher budget for research, education and innovation, Van de Walle offered the MEPs CESAER’s assistance in “any and all actions needed to reverse the proposed cuts for these vital programmes.”

The EU leaders’ deal from July foresees €80.9 billion for Horizon Europe and €21.2 billion for Erasmus+, significantly less than previously proposed by the European Commission. Now, the deal must go through the parliament, which can negotiate changes to the deal before accepting or rejecting it.

 

MEPs say the final agreement for the EU's multiannual budget and the pandemic recovery fund should have "adequate funding" for Horizon Europe and Erasmus.

"There needs to be adequate funding for EU flagship programmes such as the ones for research or the young," said Johan Van Overtveldt, the head of European parliament's budget committee on Thursday.  

The parliament is entering interinstitutional negotiations (trilogues) with the European Commission and Council. Delegations of the three institutions sat together for trilateral talks for the first time since EU leaders agreed on the 2021-2027 budget. "We had a good discussion so far already today," Van Overtveldt said.  "And I'm pretty sure that in the coming weeks we can continue that positive and constructive way of dialogue."

Next week, members of the parliament's budget committee will debate the state of play of the negotiations on the EU’s next long-term budget. 

 

In a letter sent to the EU Research Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and the German Research Minister Anja Karliczek, MEPs argued that EU member states should prioritise research spending in their recovery budget plans outside of the Horizon Europe programme.

“Investment in research and innovation should be encouraged in negotiating the national investment programmes under the European structural and investment funds,” says the letter signed by eleven members of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee.

This way, the signatories hope some of the money recently cut from the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, could be compensated for by investments in research as part of other EU programmes, such as cohesion and agriculture funds.

The MEPs also hope the European Commission will set guidelines and monitor the projects funded by the €750 billion post-coronavirus pandemic recovery pot to ensure the initiatives help the block meet its long-term goals, such as reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

The call comes after the parliament declared it will not approve the new €1.074 trillion seven-year EU budget deal, part of which is the recovery fund, and will seek improvements to the agreement reached after four-day long negotiations at the European Council in mid-July. Horizon Europe spending under the current budget deal is set at €80.9 billion, of which €5 billion will be part of the recovery fund.

 

The European Innovation Council today announced 64 start ups that will receive a total of over €307 million in grants and equity investments to help support Europe’s green recovery.

The awardees are developing green innovative solutions in areas ranging from the automotive, aerospace and maritime industries to advanced materials and Internet of Things technologies.

Of the €307 million, €182.6 million, the biggest sum in the EIC's history to date, will be awarded to 38 companies in the form of equity investments through the newly established EIC Fund, which manages European Commission’s investments in innovative SMEs.

Meanwhile, 562 companies that made excellent proposals but failed to secure funding due to the high amount of applications will be awarded “Green Deal” Seals of Excellence, titles recognising the quality of the proposals aimed at helping the companies find funding elsewhere.

The results of this latest EIC green deal funding round are the most geographically diverse and gender balanced to date. The representation of female CEOs in the winning start-ups tripled after the EIC promised at least a quarter of the candidates invited to final interviews would have female CEOs. When it comes to geographical balance, the 64 start ups represented 21 different countries, including seven EU member states that are lagging behind in innovation performance.

The EIC, which is currently in €3.3 billion its pilot phase, will become a full-fledged European innovation funding agency in 2021 under the EU’s next seven-year research funding programme, Horizon Europe. In its pilot phase, the new innovation agency has so far selected 140 start-ups and SMEs to receive equity financing worth a total of over €500 million. The European Commission is set to make its first investments in the winning SMEs this September.

 

Klaus Schuch, the scientific director of Austria's Center for Social Innovation (ZSI) lamented the concessions made during the budget summit and said the Horizon Europe budget should not have been sacrificed. "This is an absurd sacrifice given the many challenges in front of us to which science, technology and innovation could make important positive contributions" he said.

Schuch criticised Austria's strategy to ask for more cuts during the summit, thereby limiting the amount of funding available for the research and innovation programme.

"[The summit] is a masterpiece of misguided negotiations. Instead of concentrating on the big goals and setting the course for the future, short-sighted political deals are made that lead the purpose of the whole exercise to absurdity," Schuch said. "Austria is sacrificing an extremely important EU programme in which the country has been a net recipient for more than 20 years."

 

Fifty-five grantees of the European Research Council (ERC) have been awarded Proof of Concept (PoC) funding from Horizon 2020 to explore the commercial or societal potential of their research results.

“I am pleased that one of my very first acts back at the helm of ERC is to announce a new round of funding call results, showing that the pandemic has not altered the efficient functioning of the ERC,” said newly re-appointed ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon.

The grants total €8.25 million and cover projects in a variety of topics, such as gecko-inspired gripping technology to help automate the assembly of products with tiny parts, tapping into the international digital music market by producing song word metadata for playlist generators, and enhancing the safety of live vaccines for mosquito-transmitted viruses.

“Proof of Concept grants help ERC-funded researchers move their ground-breaking results towards commercial or social innovation. Curiosity-led research is a key ingredient to feed innovation, something which Europe needs more of,” Bourguignon said.

 

Several Dutch university associations issued a joint statement denouncing the new Horizon Europe budget agreement, which they believe is not enough to address the COVID-19 crisis and Europe’s green and digital transitions.

The statement details why an ambitious budget for research and innovation is important for Europe’s future and hints at disappointment with ‘the politicians in The Hague’, which campaigned for a significantly smaller overall EU budget than the European Commission had proposed.

The statement was signed by the Dutch Association of Universities (VSNU), the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

 

The European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) is backing a decision by the European Parliament to seek a larger budget for Horizon Europe. The academies say increases should be routed the European Research Council, Marie Curie actions, and pan-European research infrastructures. “Europe’s future relies on knowledge, innovation and research,” the academies say in a statement.

The academies say the budget deal reached by EU leaders last week is “a severe and long-term threat to Europe’s capacities as a world leader in science, research and innovation.”

 

Six technology platforms and research partnerships in the agri and aqua food sectors are calling on EU policymakers to increase the budget for Horizon Europe to ensure research and innovation can drive sustainable innovation in European food systems.

“Science-based sustainable solutions will be essential to drive improvements in our food systems and help farmers produce in a more sustainable manner whilst securing a fair income,” a statement signed by the six organisations reads. “We therefore urge the European Institutions to protect and even extend the budget allocated to Horizon Europe.”

 

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