Poland wants more bottom-up calls and better tools for Widening countries in FP10

03 Jul 2024 | News

The Polish Chamber of Commerce for High Technology has ten recommendations for Framework Programme 10

Katarzyna Walczyk-Matuszyk, chair of the IZTECH Horizon Europe Working Group. Photo credits: IZTECH

The Horizon Europe successor programme FP10 should strike a balance between bottom-up and top-down calls, offer improved instruments for Widening countries, and support the participation of SMEs.

This is the call from IZTECH, a Polish non-profit organisation supporting high tech development, in the first paper from Poland putting forward views on how the next EU research framework programme should be shaped.

The paper calls for the budget for FP10 to be twice that of Horizon Europe, which it says would increase success rates in applying for grants. It also says there should be greater alignment with other EU programmes and with national funding agencies.

An approach to doing this could be to introduce further block exemptions that allow member states to provide state aid without reference to the European Commission, and to align the budgetary requirements of the Cohesion policy and FP10.

In addition, research topics should be drawn up in a way that avoids duplication of effort and overlap in funding schemes, whilst also ensuring projects reflect market trends.

As things stand, topics for calls are often not keeping up with technology development, Katarzyna Walczyk-Matuszyk, chair of the IZTECH Horizon Europe Working Group told Science|Business. The process of securing funding is lengthy and by the time it is distributed, the situation is likely to have changed.  To address this, IZTECH says there should be more bottom-up calls that allow researchers to choose the topic.

“Bottom-up calls should be announced within the individual clusters and focus on achieving their priorities. Such an approach would unleash creativity and allow equal access to funding,” Walczyk-Matuszyk said.

She recognises that top-down funding is needed to address large scale challenges, such as the green and digital transformations, and says ntegration of both approaches is critical. Other member states are also advocating for a balance between targeted research for addressing specific challenges and giving researchers a free choice of topics.

Islands of excellence

Addressing the research and innovation gap between countries is another critical issue. Although Widening measures are a key part of Horizon Europe, they are not far-reaching enough Walczyk-Matuszyk said. For example, centres of excellence created under Teaming for Excellence instrument in Widening countries often turn into “islands of excellence”. This happens because funding ends up being concentrated in the few centres that have the capabilities to draw up successful proposals.

IZTECH wants to see a detailed impact analysis of the Widening gap, including a focus on biases, the development of horizontal measures like those adopted to ensure gender equality, and the improvement of existing tools. It proposes that Excellence Hubs, an initiative to strengthen regional innovation, should have specific research themes. Additionally, the Hop On instrument, which allows institutions from Widening countries to join already ongoing research and innovation projects should be replaced with mechanisms that enable these counties to be part of a consortium from the very beginning, at the proposal preparation stage.

Finally, there is a need to increase the capacity of research managers and research administration in Widening countries. This “should be addressed through dedicated initiatives to enhance skills, competencies, and collaboration opportunities,” Walczyk-Matuszyk said.

Selection criteria

IZTECH wants to see more support for SMEs. For example, FP10 could introduce calls where the participation of SMEs is required, and a certain share of the budget is allocated to them.

In addition, the process of applying for European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator funding needs to be simplified. “The process is so complex that it is nearly impossible for SMEs to apply without external help. This complexity makes the process inaccessible to companies, and many simply give up,” Walczyk-Matuszyk said. In Widening countries, SMEs often face additional barriers to get access to resources and they need tailored support mechanisms.

Improving the governance and evaluation of partnerships is another key recommendation. According to IZTECH, Horizon Europe lacks clarity on how the themes are selected, and a tendency for partners to concentrated in certain regions and countries. To address these issues there should be a detailed evaluation of the current approach, with the aim of developing standards for how partnerships are set up and run, based on best practice to date.

“Each partnership should [have] detailed objectives, expected outcomes, and defined roles for all parties involved. This clarity will help in tracking progress, measuring success, and making necessary adjustments over time,” the paper says.

As Walczyk-Matuszyk pointed out, none of the Horizon Europe partnerships are coordinated by Widening countries, while in Horizon 2020, three partnerships were coordinated by Poland and one by Portugal. FP10 should include tools and initiatives to equip Widening countries with the expertise and experience required for partnership coordination.

IZTECH is present further recommendations for the European science and technology agenda for 2025-2030 at the Central European Technology Forum in Krakow on November 18-19.

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