The European Parliament - in a chock-full final plenary session of this term - has had its say on the remaining research initiatives of the European Union’s main research programme, Horizon 2020.
On Tuesday afternoon (15 April) MEPs rubber-stamped a bumper €22 billion parcel of 11 initiatives – herded together in the so-called “innovation investment package” for ease of digestion – forged from agreements reached in negotiations with member states and industry over the past few months.
Six of these initiatives will manage research competitions in the areas of innovative medicines, aeronautics, bio-based industries, fuel cells and hydrogen, electronics and rail transport – and are collectively steered by the European Commission and industry in public-private partnership agreements (PPPs).
A seventh PPP – a research project called SESAR that is tasked with modernising air traffic management systems – will receive funding until its membership under Horizon 2020 expires in 2016.
The remaining four initiatives are in the public-public partnership (P2P) mould and seek to help national governments integrate their research programmes better together in fields as diverse as clinical trials, SME financing, active ageing and metrology.
A lot of these initiatives existed under Horizon 2020’s successor, the seventh framework programme (FP7), and are returning with larger budgets. It’s likely the Council will grant the final adoption of these initiatives mid-May.
European Commissioner for research, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, said, “I look forward to the final approval of the package by the member states, with a view to launching these partnerships in July."
Dividing up the coppers
Over the next seven years, the EU injecting a little less than €9 billion into these projects is expected to mobilise some €9 billion from the private sector and about €4 billion from member states.
The lion’s share of EU money is going to the PPPs. Each PPP is an independent legal entity jointly funded by the European Commission and industry.
The Commission will put in up to 50 per cent in cash, while the contribution of industrial partners can consist of both in-kind contributions and hard cash. For the project ECSEL, the member states are also putting in money.
|PPPs||Horizon 2020 & participating member states (for ECSEL only)
| Innovative medicines initiative (IMI 2)
| Fuel cells and hydrogen 2
| Clean sky 2
| Bio-based industries
| Electronic components and systems (ECSEL)
|| €1,184.874M (& at least €1,170M from participating member states)
|Total|| €7,837.874M (€6,667.874M from H2020 & €1,170M from member states
||member states' share
| European and developing countries clinical trials partnership 2 (EDCTP 2)
| European metrology research programme (EMRP 2)
| Eurostars 2 (for SMEs)
| Active and assisted living research and development programme (AAL 2)
|| Horizon 2020
|| Eurocontrol's share
Although the P2Ps will command smaller budgets, their triumph was protecting their allocated amounts from cuts.
The PPPs did not arrive to the European Parliament plenary unscathed – following the Commission’s original proposal in June 2013, there were five per cent cuts for the innovative medicines initiative (IMI2) and fuel cells (FC2), with the other PPPs being cut by two and a half per cent.
Member states’ financial commitment to P2Ps will fluctuate between countries and competitions, in line with their budget availability and strategic goals.
For example, for calls in 2014 under the AAL initiative, the range in countries’ commitments is huge – with Belgium stumping up €2.8 million compared to Slovenia’s €200,000.
A closer look at the P2Ps
European and developing countries clinical trials partnership (EDCTP)
Founded in 2003, EDCTP is a partnership of 14 EU member states, along with Norway, Switzerland and sub-Saharan African countries. For its first phase, 2007 – 2013, EDCTP worked off €200 million from the Commission and matching funds from European member states.
EDCTP works on the notion of strengthening – or in some cases establishing – research capacity in developing countries. Its specific raison d'être is to accelerate clinical trial interventions to put into service new drugs to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) in sub-Saharan African regions. Medicines that show early promise against these three diseases in small-scale clinical trials often shrink away, mainly because poor countries lack the money and infrastructure for larger trials.
With a significant budget increase for the new phase EDCTP’s chairman, Mark Palmer, is in a good mood. “I’m delighted that the European Parliament has approved funding for the second programme of EDCTP. This presents a unique opportunity to bolster European-African cooperation,” he said.
For EDCTP to make a return in Horizon 2020, it was always going to have to generate significant enthusiasm in Africa – something it achieved.
“Seventy five per cent of EDCTP funding was allocated to African research institutions, while more than 70% of all EDCTP-funded activities were led by African researchers,” said Gert Onne van de Klashorst, EDCTP’s communication officer, commenting on the first phase.
A recent study on the initiative confirmed that this level of participation, “is a sign that the EDCTP programme has been embraced in sub-Saharan Africa.”
For the next generation, van de Klashorst promises we will see, “a stronger partnership, with more European and African countries participating, increased collaboration with pharma companies, philanthropic organisations and development agencies.”
EDCTP2 will run until 2023. A workplan for 2014-2015 and details on the first call are expected in the summer.
Eurostars – also enjoying an extension – has seen its budget go up threefold. The next phase will involve EU member states along with Iceland, Israel, Norway, Turkey and Switzerland, with each of these non-EU states also contributing to Horizon 2020. South Korean companies, for the first time, are being welcomed into the fold too.
Miloslav Ransdorf, the MEP who steered Eurostars through parliament, told Science|Business he was happy with the outcome.
“Eurostars is a great way for SMEs in the North of Europe who traditionally work across borders – like Sweden, Denmark and Finland – to transfer their knowledge further to SMEs from newer EU members in the East.”
“I’m especially happy to see no cuts to the original proposal,” he added.
On 13 March, Eurostars' first submission deadline under Horizon 2020 closed with a total of 299 submissions. These involved 938 participants, 70 per cent of which were SMEs.
SMEs report high levels of satisfaction with the programme.
“It has fitted our company the best [among all public funding options],” said Ulf Christensen, CEO of PentaBase – a company working on cancer diagnostics that has drawn some €380,000 from the programme through the years. “The whole bureaucracy around applying for a grant is kept to a minimum.”
One thing Eurostars might work to improve upon though is communicating the available budget it has in each country, he added. “It’s not always obvious how many companies can be funded in each country. For one call, I recall Italy allocating little to no budget – so if I had sought to partner with someone from Italy, I would not have had my proposal funded,” he said.
Active and assisted living research and development programme (AAL)
The Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) project would like to oversee the emergence of, “innovative ICT-based products, services and systems for ageing well at home, in the community, and at work…”.
Against the backdrop of a rapidly ageing Europe, researchers and small businesses in care fields are seeing market potential for small innovations to help senior citizens live active lives.
Samir Bendida is someone who is hoping to get amongst AAL’s funding. Cyclodeo – the company he founded – creates technology for older cycling enthusiasts who get to visualise cycling across different cities in the world.
“It’s google's street view but for bikes,” said Bendida to a group of potential partners at a consortium building event in Brussels on Wednesday (16 April). “We crowdsource videos of people cycling in Amsterdam or San Francisco and senior citizens can watch these videos as they peddle on their static exercise bikes.”
Having spent around €600 million between 2007 and 2013, AAL counts among its successes a high participation of SMEs in its funding competitions – some 40 per cent – and the participation of intended users – senior citizens – in 30 per cent of all of its projects. Fifty per cent of projects funded in the initiative’s first two years – 2008 and 2009 – have achieved IPR results.
European metrology research programme (EMRP)
This programme is for those concerned with the measurement of things - metrologists, as they're known.
Teams of metrologists in various national metrology institutes (NMIs) across Europe published a study in 2003 calling for more collaboration at a time when Europe needed to keep on top of measuring the outputs of new emerging technologies - such as nanotechnology and biotechnology.
Their starting point is that everyone – whether they’re working in science or the man on the street – must have confidence in the measurement and reliability of data. Researchers in EMRP can expect to work on topics ranging from redefining the weight of the kilogram or the length of the second to measuring the “dryness” of objects.
The European Commission has already provided some €221 million of funding, with matching funds from national institutes. The first deadline for 2014 was 25 March with the second stage competition opening on 24 June 2014.
Road to the plenary vote
The path to the European plenary vote began officially on 10 July 2013 when the European Commission proposed budgets.
These were subsequently considered by the Competitiveness Council – a dedicated research committee in the Council – which agreed on a common position on the package on 3 December 2013.
The legislative proposals were then considered by the European Parliament and Council together in so-called trilogue discussions – culminating in a vote in the European Parliament’s own research committee, ITRE, on 17 March 2014.