Horizon 2020 in line to start on time after €70B package agreed

26 Jun 2013 | News
After marathon negotiations slog, key MEPs and interest groups welcome deal and hope for timely start to the European Union’s next R&D programme

It’s taken two and a half years of negotiation, but now a circa €70 billion package has been agreed by the Council and the European Parliament for Horizon 2020, Europe’s flagship R&D programme for 2014 - 2020.  While this needs to be approved by the institutions as a whole, interest groups welcome the progress as a sign that Horizon 2020 will start on time in January 2014.

“It really was time to wrap up the negotiations in order to have a smooth transition from Framework Programme 7 to Horizon 2020,” said Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of The League of European Research Universities (LERU). “It was unthinkable that we would have to go to a second reading of the texts,” he said.

Many of the Parliament’s amendments form part of the latest package, but the Council held on to its restrained budget. “The Parliament finally gave up on the unrealistic demands of different funding rates for different projects”, said Deketelaere, adding, “and the Council showed a lot of flexibility in agreeing with the Parliament on almost everything else.”

But the Horizon 2020 package awaits agreement on the EU’s overall budget, and Željko Pazin, Executive Director of the European Factories of the Future Research Associations (EFFRA) says this is vital to, “allow for a smooth start to Horizon 2020 in 2014”.

The preliminary package

Horizon 2020 will support excellent science and innovation by industry, to tackle big societal problems such as food and energy security, climate change, health and demographic changes.

"Excellence - without geographical constraints - is the primary criterion for participation in Horizon 2020”, said Maria da Graça Carvalho MEP, Rapporteur for the specific programme implementing Horizon 2020. A key part of this excellence is the earmarking of funding for the European Research Council, which will receive seventeen per cent of the budget according to Presidency officials.

In addition Carvalho noted, "Youth employment is a problem that Europe has to face head on. As a result, Horizon 2020 sets out to create the necessary conditions that will enable an increase in levels of employment amongst young scientists through the establishment of return grants and innovation vouchers.”

Open access publication of results from research funded under Horizon 2020 will be mandatory, which will, "allow the results of publically funded research and innovation to be maximised”, said Teresa Riera, MEP and Rapporteur for the Horizon 2020 regulation.

Irish Presidency officials, speaking on the background to journalists after the trilogue, said a target of twenty per cent of the overall budget would be directed towards small and medium sized businesses.

Victories for the Parliament

Christian Ehler, MEP claimed novel measures introduced by the Parliament have “turned Horizon 2020 into a real growth factor for the European economy.”

“For the first time, we have created a dedicated SME instrument and allocated a substantial budget to it in order to boost innovation in Europe’s businesses,” said Ehler, Rapporteur on the Horizon 2020 rules for participation. Although the Council was originally opposed to this instrument, it has now been allocated a budget of four per cent of the pot.

“On top of that, we introduced a fast track to Innovation into the programme,” said Ehler. This is “A new bottom-up mechanism that will allow for small innovative projects to be funded at any time.”  Presidency officials say that although the Council feared this would overlap with the SME instrument, the institutions have agreed to introduce a pilot scheme.

"Another great success is the introduction of dedicated measures to widen participation” Ehler believes.  Teaming and twinning initiatives, networking measures and “return grants” are aimed at encouraging participation from the newer member states, said Ehler. “In addition, massive investments in the R&D infrastructures of less-well performing regions will be necessary, which will be supported through strong synergies between Horizon 2020 and the EU Structural Funds", he said. 

The Parliament was also successful in securing, "A shortened time of eight months for grants [in the previous programme, applicants had to wait a year], a greater acceptance of the beneficiaries' accounting practices, and a reduced administrative burden,” said Ehler.

Council’s Budget Strengths

These wins came at a price for the Parliament: the budget figure of €70 billion is a far cry from the Parliament’s demand for €100 billion. Speaking after the final agreement was made, Teresa Riera, MEP and Rapporteur for the Horizon 2020 regulation, said, "We would still like to see a budget appropriate to this sector - which is crucial for Europe's global competitiveness and is the future driver of our economy. But this was the best deal possible with a Council that is still dominated by an austerity-driven mentality.”

The Parliament also lost out on its preferred reimbursement model. “I dread the fact that the Parliament had to consent to the Council's funding model,” said Ehler, who was a strong supporter of retaining the full-cost reimbursement option. “I consider this a major step backwards, after years of joint efforts at European and national level to modernise the financing of Europe's research landscape.” Ehler claimed many participants with expensive high-end research infrastructures will experience under-financing in Horizon 2020 as a result. I deeply regret that Member States and Commission went down this road - against the declared position of key EU research stakeholders,” he said.      

The European University Association (EUA), a strong supporter of the full-cost option throughout the debate, finds this result “disappointing”, said Thomas Estermann, Head of Unit of Governance, Autonomy & Funding, but it “needs to be considered within the broader context”. “A number of national research funders do support the full-cost model”, said Estermann. “The EUA will continue to work in the national environment to support its members in adopting full-cost methodologies,” he said.

Estermann noted that many universities used the flat-rate model under the existing framework programme and they will be able to continue this under Horizon 2020. “The EUA has always said that the true issue for simplification is how the rules for participation are interpreted and implemented by the European Commission services.  We count on the Commission’s good intentions to work together with the EUA and others to improve this for Horizon 2020 and to work towards real simplification.”

Positive Response from Interest Groups

The package has received a generally positive response from R&D representatives, although the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations and DigitalEurope both declined to comment, pending further details on the package.

EFFRA, representing the private side of the EU’s Factories of the Future’ public-private partnership says the deal “Is good news for the European manufacturing industry and the ‘Factories of the Future’ public-private partnership community, sending a strong message of commitment from the public-side to supporting European research and innovation.”

The European Roundtable of Industrialists is generally satisfied with the efforts made to “Simplify administrative requirements for participation in EU R&I funding programmes,” said Roeland Van der Stappen, policy adviser.  “We considered that an essential element to reverse the decline in industry participation that has taken place over the course of previous EU Framework Programmes.”

The groups are also understanding of the concessions made, with Van der Stappen saying “As far as the overall budget allocation of around €70 billion is concerned, we believe (like others) that cuts were kept to a minimum and acknowledge the context in which the overall multi annual financial framework discussions took place.”

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