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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Andrzej Jajszczyk and Nektarios Tavernarakis will be the new vice presidents of the EU’s fundamental research funding body, the European Research Council (ERC).

The two members of the ERC Scientific Council will start their terms on 1 January joining the current vice president, Eveline Crone. Jajszczyk, who is the president of the Krakow branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a professor at the AGH University of Science and Technology, will oversee the ERC’s activities in physical and engineering sciences. Tavernarakis, a chairman of the board of directors at the Green Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) and a molecular systems biology professor at the University of Crete, will be in charge of the life sciences domain.

The ERC is currently also searching for candidates to replace the interim president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon and is accepting nominations until 20 November 2020.

 

The European Parliament’s centre-right group, the European People’s Party (EPP), is expecting to reach an agreement on the next seven-year EU budget and the recovery plan later today.

In a statement issued this morning, the group reiterated they want more funding for flagship EU programmes, including  Horizon Europe, and expect to reach ‘a political deal’ during today’s negotiations with the Council and the European Commission.

The European Council agreed on a slimmed-down EU budget in July and cut the funding of the EU’s research programme, Horizon Europe, to €80.9 billion compared with €94.4 billion proposed by the commission in May. Since July, MEPs have been fighting to reverse the cuts. The pressure is mounting as the start of the next EU budget cycle in 2021 is fast approaching and a budget deal is needed to agree on the final details of EU flagship programmes.

 

The European Commission will invest €128 million into 23 research projects that will address pressing needs of the COVID-19 pandemic and its societal impact.

The projects, which involve 344 research teams from 39 countries, will strengthen and adapt manufacturing processes of medical equipment, such as ventilators, research ways to prevent and treat COVID-19 infection, develop medical technologies, aim to understand societal impacts of the pandemic, and look for ways to improve treatment through patient cohort studies.

These are the results of the commission’s second emergency call for COVID-19 research launched in May. The winning projects will be funded under the EU research programme, Horizon Europe.

 

Spain’s Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology today awarded €29 million to 48 research and innovation projects involving 53 companies, including 39 SMEs.

Out of the 48 projects, three will help Spain tackle the COVID-19 pandemic by manufacturing face masks and nasal swabs as well as developing a new line of production and increasing existing production capacity for disinfectant gels.

 

A new report says the EU should have a dedicated fellowship programme to support researchers from abroad whose lives, liberty or careers are in danger.

A dedicated programme would enhance funding for researchers at risk, their host institutions and support organisations in Europe, helping support their research as well as additional support measures.

The report by Inspireurope, a project backed by the EU researcher mobility programme, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), is based on a survey of organisations supporting and hosting researchers who are unable to work in their home countries due to hostile conditions.

Based on the survey results, the authors also recommend to support researchers at risk by prolonging their first placements in EU research institutions from one year to three, ensuring they are informed about follow-up career options after the placements, enhancing information and training services, offering more support to female researchers, expanding collaboration opportunities with the private sector, and delivering policy-level support.

 

Ludovic Thilly, the chair of the university association, the Coimbra Group, is urging EU policymakers and national governments to support early career researchers affected by the COVID-19 crisis by extending ongoing project contracts.

“The lockdown and sanitary measures taken across Europe to counter the pandemic, resulted in limited to no access to university facilities such as laboratories and libraries,” wrote Thilly in a statement last week. “While this impacted research productivity for all researchers, both experienced ones and those at an early-stage, the latter – women in particular - are further affected by concerns related to their career progression. The crisis has revealed how fragile the status of early-career researchers is.”

 

The European Commission today announced 75 health research projects that will receive a total of €508 million in grants from the EU research programme, Horizon 2020.

The projects, involving 158 participants from 58 countries, will develop treatments and vaccines for various diseases, including d brain-related diseases and cancer, help better understand the impact of micro- and nano- plastics on health, improve urban wellbeing, address low vaccine uptake and tackle antimicrobial resistance.

Almost €27 million dedicated to cancer research, brain-related and nervous system disorders, and antimicrobial resistance will be matched by participating member states through the ERA-NET co-fund mechanism. The money will fund joint calls for trans-national research and innovation projects.

 

The European Innovation Council (EIC) today announced 58 winners that will receive a total of €191 million to transform high-risk research into innovative technologies.

Out of the 58 winners that will receive financing from the EU’s newest innovation funding body, 30 per cent of projects will be led by female researchers while 26 per cent will produce green technologies, such a device converting low-grade waste into electricity.

In this funding round, the EIC received a total of 902 applications for its pathfinder grants which enable researchers and entrepreneurs to turn ideas into innovative technologies. Innovators Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and Switzerland submitted the highest number of successful applications.

 

The Informal Group of the Italian Representation Offices in Brussels (GIURI) is calling on EU policymakers to ensure the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe, is ambitious enough to address current and future challenges.

The group’s statement highlights “the worrying extent of the cuts related to the R&I budget” made by EU leaders in July. The cuts are not limited to Horizon Europe, the group argues, and have impacted the entire R&I landscape, including other EU programmes, such as InvestEU, Digital Europe and EU4Health.

 

Four in five projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the EU’s basic research funding body, resulted in scientific breakthroughs or made major scientific advances.

An independent study found that 18 per cent of ERC projects made scientific breakthroughs, while another 61.9 per cent made major advances. The remaining 20 per cent was made up of 17.6 per cent of projects that made ‘an incremental scientific contribution’ and 2.5 per cent that provided no clear scientific cotribution.

“It proves that the EU’s investment in frontier research, through the ERC, pays off greatly and that Europe needs more of this - not less, as we fear after the July EU summit,” said interim ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, referring to the cuts to the EU research budget EU leaders made in July.

The findings align with previous studies which found that 72 to 79 per cent of ERC studies made scientific breakthroughs or major scientific advances.

The results of the study have been published in the middle of heated negotiations over the EU’s budget for research and innovation over the next seven years. The ERC is trying to convince member states of its added value and to agree on rounding up its budget to levels proposed by the European Commission in 2018.

 

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