The first two calls for public-private partnerships under the Key Enabling Technologies programme KET of Horizon 2020 have attracted lots of applications from industry, Clara de la Torre, director of the Key Enabling Technologies unit at DG RTD, told the Science|Business Horizon 2020 conference. “50 per cent of the participants are coming from the industry sector, out of which more than 30 per cent are SMEs,” she said.
Despite the good preliminary results, de la Torre says the Commission is looking at ways to improve the quality of the proposals. The Commission needs to, “Be more demanding on the expected impact of the proposals,” said de la Torre.
This must be matched by increasing the evaluation capabilities of the Commission. “We need experts that are able to evaluate the impact [of proposals] and I hope we could encourage business experts to be part of our evaluator school,” de la Torre said.
Measuring impact is problematic, and in the case of the KETs could involve the number of jobs a project creates, or the return on investment. De la Torre said projects are analysed as investment opportunities: “Applicants have to show that there is a good business opportunity [that is] worth exploring, for them and for the public.”
For current projects the Commission requests a business plan. “Applicants will have to explain the business aims of their project,” said de la Torre.
When asked about the ongoing debate on the number of application stages, de la Torre said, “It is better to have two stages if it is well organised, and you get low success rates in the first stage and very high rates in the second one.”
Competitiveness and reindustrialisation
As part of the industrial technologies pillar of Horizon 2020, the KETs are funding technologies and services that could potentially boost the EU’s competitiveness.
De la Torre noted the KETs contribute to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s investment plan on five key points: growth and job creation, reindustrialisation, the digital single market, the Energy Union and global competitiveness. “The tools, gadgets, medicines and services we use every day have key enabling technologies embedded,” said de la Torre.
KET grants are also intended to help the EU meet its goal of increasing the contribution of industry to the GDP from 16 to 20 per cent, by embedding information and communication technologies in manufacturing processes.
This will allow the replacement of manpower with robots for routine manufacturing tasks which, in turn, will boost industrial productiveness and efficiency. “Yes, this means Europe is losing jobs, but we all know we are creating jobs somewhere else,” said de la Torre. “But we are looking at developing new sets of skills for Europe’s workforce,” she added.
The Commission has launched calls for public-private partnerships in a broad range of areas: factories of the future, energy efficient buildings, the green vehicle initiative, process industry, robotics, photonics, and high performance computing.
The Commission has also helped in creating industry associations which represent these sectors. “These associations open to anyone who is interested in the fields for which we launch competitive calls in the normal work programmes,” de la Torre said.
Coupling KETs and smart specialisation
Smart specialisation strategies feature areas covered by the KETs. “This is an opportunity that needs to be seized and we already have a list of regions ready to invest in [areas covered by the] KETs,” said de la Torre.
In support of this, the Committee of the Regions is organising a workshop where industry, regional authorities and researchers will look at, “How structural funds, regional funds, and KETs can be combined,” de la Torre said.In addition, the Commission is providing a platform - which has attracted 14 countries so far - where people, “Are exchanging real experiences and practices of how this is done in the context of KETs,” said de la Torre.