Commission fleshes out plans for Horizon missions

16 Dec 2021 | News

First round of nineteen research calls will put €673M into soils, oceans, climate-neutral cities, cancer and climate adaptation, as the missions kick off in full steam

The European Commission today announced how it will spend the first €673 million on 19 research calls to roll out five Horizon Europe missions in health, climate and the environment. 

The missions officially got off the ground in September when the Commission revealed its €1.9 billion two-year plan for the five new-style research programmes.

“This update contains, as was always planned, more attention to research and innovation activities in addition to further support to knowledge exchange, networks and platforms which will enable the missions’ success,” a Commission source said.

The calls, the first of which are due to launch on 22 December, aim to support regions and communities as they adapt to climate change; develop new methods and technologies in cancer screening and early detection; restore marine and fresh water ecosystems and biodiversity; start up the transition towards climate-neutral cities; and validate and develop indicators for soil health.

The missions are a new type of European research programme aiming to tackle societal challenges by setting out clear goals and deadlines and mobilising public and private action across the bloc. They’re based on the idea that the public sector should take a bigger role in tackling societal challenges and reflect research by Mariana Mazzucato, economics professor at University College London.

In the next two years, each mission will get at least €320 million from the Horizon Europe research programme to fight cancer, help Europe adapt to climate change, protect seas and rivers, promote carbon neutral cities and foster soil health. If all goes well, extra funding will be allocated to the missions after 2022, but the funding is only seed money to spur investment in innovation and demonstration projects in member states.

The new calls are an update to the missions’ work programme detailing the calls, their scope and budgets for the year. There are also details on how the Commission will spend some of the money on procurement. Until now, each missions had a budget of up to €5 million for the groundwork.

The next work programme update with more money from the EU’s 2022 budget is expected in April.

Adaptation to climate change

The Commission wants to support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030.

There’s €110 million in new funding to develop a common climate change risk assessment framework, large-scale demonstrator projects, improving asset level modelling of climate risks and involving citizens with the mission.

In April, the Commission will flesh out the plans with more focus on coordinating the portfolio of innovations and identifying remaining gaps.


The mission aims to improve the lives of more than 3 million people suffering from cancer by 2030. The Commission newly allocated €125 million to this goal in the first annual Horizon Europe budget.

A total of €60 million will be spent on projects developing new methods and technologies for cancer screening and early detection.

Another €54 million will be spent on deepening understanding of the impact of risk factors and health determinants on the development and progression of cancer.

There’s also funding for one €11 million projects to develop and validate a set of quality of life and patient preference measures for cancer patients and survivors.

Restoring oceans

Arguably the most ambitious of the five, the oceans mission hopes restore, protect and preserve the health of Europe’s ocean, seas and waters by 2030.

This year’s round of calls will be worth €104 million, including €57 million for protection, conservation and enhancement the EU’s waters. Under this set of calls, the Commission hopes to fund the first lighthouse projects in the Danube river basin and the Atlantic and Artic basin.

There’s also €19 million for preventing pollution, focused on the Mediterranean sea basin, and another €19 million for blue economy lighthouse projects in the Baltic and the North Sea basin.

To enable wider roll out of the mission, the Commission will invest €9 million in digital knowledge systems, fostering public engagement, and developing dynamic investment ecosystems.

Climate neutral and smart cities

The cities mission will support 100 European cities as they invest and innovate to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The first year of the mission will be focused on preparing the cities for the mission with a budget of €117 million. The Commission will call for projects that will support urban planning, innovate public transport, create the framework conditions for cooperation, design positive clean energy districts, and facilitate global cooperation in the field.

There are also details of a €42 million 2022 call due to open on 28 April, which will fund projects on inclusive, safe, affordable and sustainable urban mobility.

Soil health and food

The goal of the mission is to establish 100 labs and lighthouses to support remediation of soils.

With the smallest budget of bunch, €62 million, the Commission will launch calls for:

  • Creating roadmaps for each of the mission objectives
  • Validating and developing indicators for soil health and functions
  • Deepening the understanding of links between soil health and safe food
  • Looking into the role of social, economic and cultural factors and land management and degradation
  • Finding incentives and business models for soil health
  • Fostering engaging with the mission in municipalities, regions and at national level
  • Advisory services for soils.

2022 onward

The work programme promises more cross-cutting projects to be announced in 2022 to enable work across multiple missions.

One way the Commission will support all five missions as they mobilise across the continent is through a new European Social Catalyst fund that will “enlist experts in social innovation and leverage additional public and private money.” The experts will select the best social innovations to be replicated across the bloc.

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