12 Jul 2012   |   News

MEPs want a more bottom-up approach for Horizon 2020

Brussels should deal only with the broad overarching strategy of the EU’s R&D agenda, with new scientific steering committees appointed to see to the details, key MEPs tell Science|Business

The European Commission should determine the direction of EU’s overall long-term R&D policy, but new scientific steering committees should have more influence on the detailed implementation, according to MEPs in charge of steering the proposal for the Horizon 2020 programme through Parliament.

The European Parliament also wants the Governing Board of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) to be able to set its own strategic agenda, in a major push for a more bottom-up approach to EU innovation policy.

Currently, bureaucrats in the European Commission draft the yearly work programmes that govern the European Union’s R&D policy, with overall strategy set in a seven year plan, the next installment of which - Horizon 2020 - is due to kick off in 2014. Parliament is now set to propose that the yearly “strategic research and innovation coordination” of issues such as energy security and health be opened up to a more bottom-up approach, in a move that is in line with the EU assembly’s demand for more democratic accountability of Horizon 2020’s leading figures.

Christian Ehler MEP (EPP), one of the group of six MEPs in charge of steering the Horizon 2020 legislation through Parliament, believes the Commission intends to draw up too many details of Horizon 2020 behind closed doors by leaving them up to the yearly implementation programmes, “Although we agree that we really want to back up the proposal for simplification, it is politically just unrealistic that we would accept that they set up a governance structure, without a rooting in a legal proposal,” he says.

Yearly programmes

Teresa Riera Madurell MEP (S&D) would like to see the European Research Council’s (ERC) peer-review method applied to more aspects of Horizon 2020, saying, “It has been very successful - and one of the characteristics is bottom-up. It comes from the foundations, from the scientists,” says Madurell. She proposes that scientific steering committees should be set up to help draft the yearly work programmes.

Madurell suggests these steering committees could be based on the ERC model, saying they could be composed of “people with a recognised scientific record, in the line of the ERC’s scientific council,” stressing that, “this is absolutely necessary.” Madurell, a member of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee, is the MEP responsible for guiding the Horizon 2020 legislative package through Parliament as rapporteur.

Brussels should set the general direction, says Phillipe Lamberts MEP (Greens), after which it is up to a “bottom-up, competition-driven process to get to good proposals. The top-down part is Horizon 2020, which defines research and innovation priorities such as the social challenges and the leading enabling and industrial technologies.” Lamberts is one of the MEPs responsible for steering new EIT legislation through Parliament as a member of the ITRE committee.

EIT self-governance

Lamberts believes the topics handled by the EIT’s Knowledge and Innovation Clusters (KICs) –in which companies, academics and research institutes collaborate on specific themes - should be decided through an open procedure, and not in backroom deals by the Commission. “What made me even more suspicious of that approach, is that some consortia were already claiming on the internet that they would be selected as the KIC,” he said.

Instead, Lamberts has introduced an amendment that would shift the responsibility for selecting new KICs to the EIT’s governing board. “That’s an act of trust in the [board], but then again: as long as there’s transparency and accountability I’m okay with that,” he says, “I believe that open competition will help the quality of the projects.”

Governing Board

In order to keep the process open, Lamberts - who says the EIT’s Director should appear before Parliament on a yearly basis – proposes changes to the way the EIT is governed. “I want a smaller board where we have a better representation of different stake holders. Not just industry - but industry, academia, research centres and civil society.”

“We want the agendas to be – at least – open to input from civil society, if not open to scrutiny from civil society,” emphasises Lamberts.

If the overall strategy is already set out in Horizon 2020, “then why do we need another strategic agenda?” Lamberts asks, referring to the EIT’s Strategic Innovation Agenda (SIA) that determines the themes and the number of KIC partnerships that should be funded. “If I have it my way, the SIA is redundant,” Lamberts said.

“The European co-legislators [Parliament and Council] determine the direction – the societal challenges and EIT initiatives,” he emphasised.

Ehler made it clear that Parliament is serious about its drive for more openness and more bottom-up input to Horizon 2020, “We won’t decide on a legal text where there are black boxes left on what the governance model is, what the interactions between the different funds are - and that would also be related to the financial instruments, “ he warned.

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