Along with growing Europe’s innovative communities and capabilities, solving ‘societal challenges’ is at the core of the Horizon 2020 strategy. Constituting the largest of the three elements within Horizon 2020, at around €31.7 billion of the total budget, the aim is to tackle the main social and environmental issues within European and globally. As part of Science|Business’ analysis of ITRE’s reports on Horizon 2020, this article summarises the Parliament’s position on the Commission’s proposal for dealing with societal challenges in Horizon 2020.
While there has been general approval of the themes selected, two key recommendations put forward by the parliament to ensure that that the budget is able to maximise its potential in addressing these challenges are:
- Establishment of Strategic Advisory Boards for each challenge
- A minimum of 15 per cent of the societal challenges budget should prioritise bottom-up research calls with no pre-defined topic
- Creating a new and seperate security challenge called "Protecting Freedom and Security in Europe"
The challenges have been selected on the premises that they are too big for any one country to handle on its own and that they also provide a better-organised and holistic approach in the distribution of funding. The general topics of the challenges include: health, food, transportation, societies, energy and climate.
Given the range of themes, both MEP Teresa Riera Madurell and MEP Maria Da Graça Carvalho say it is necessary to establish boards “composed of relevant stakeholders from academia, industry, end-users and civil society of the highest repute and appropriate expertise, ensuring a diversity of all sectors and research areas concerned.”
Assuming the measure is adopted and such boards are created, their purpose would be to serve as advisors to the Commission on overall strategy, possibilities for coordination, independent oversight and possibly to assist in coordinating activities around the goals of the three threads of Horizon 2020: excellence in the science base, societal challenges and industrial leadership and competitive frameworks.
Shortly after the summer recess, the ITRE committee will meet again to discuss new amendments and are expected to bring the final reports up for a committee vote in the autumn. New proposals are expected to surface and some of the existing ones might be altered or could disappear altogether. Parliament will have to reach an agreement with its co-legislator, the Council of Ministers, in time for Horizon 2020 to go live on the 1st of January, 2014. It is expected that negotiations will last well into the summer of 2013. With the ambitious goal of tackling Europe’s biggest challenges, it will be necessary for the Commission to have a strong management structure in place.