The greatest clamour for change in Horizon 2020 has been for a simplification of procedures compared to the over-weaning bureaucracy of its predecessor FP7. In rising to this challenge, the Commission has made a set of changes that aim to allow and encourage a broader and larger range of organisations to participate in open calls, with the promise that they will be met by a simpler and more efficient process.
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 how simplification will be achieved in Horizon 2020.
The entire structure of the programme has also been simplified and shaped towards the three main goals: promoting excellent science, increasing industrial competitiveness, and finding answers to society’s biggest challenges. While the Parliament welcomes these adjustments, they remain critical of a number of the key features:
- A general clause that allows funding bodies to depart from the single set of rules that is to apply to all funding bodies
- A single funding rate that does not take the specific cost structures of different participants into account
- A simplified programme dedicated to SMEs
- No proposal of a single electronic system or portal to have exchanges with participants or allow them to check their financial viability online
- No substantial improvement in shortening the “time to grant” under Horizon 2020
- Not doing enough to increase support for industry partners
One of the most signalled aspects of the simplification process within Horizon 2020 was the announcement of a common set of funding rules that would apply across the programme. This is crucial, since the money for Horizon 2020 is distributed by range of funding bodies. Yet, in its proposal, the Commission has stated that “a funding body may establish rules which depart from those laid down.” As MEP Christian Ehler points out, “allowing a funding body to create its own rules contradicts the idea of a single set of rules” and “there needs to be balance between appropriate flexibility, coherence and necessary reliability”.
During FP7, the ‘average time to grant’ was around 350 days. For Horizon 2020, the Commission has promised that they will reduce this period by about 100 days. For Ehler, this is not good enough: time to grant should not go beyond six months. The delay causes particular difficulty to industry. If Horizon 2020 expects to attract excellent research partners from all over the world, and to foster innovation, especially within SMEs, waiting times must be cut.
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. It seems the Commission still has a way to go to make good on its promise of simplification while catering to the varying needs of industry, SMEs, universities, RTOs and others.