Horizon Europe draft work programmes leak online

26 Jan 2021 | News

The documents give researchers detailed clues to what kind of projects will be funded in the €95.5B programme

Horizon europe

A treasure trove of draft work programmes available online gives researchers some rather large clues as to what to expect from the first rounds of calls to be launched under Horizon Europe later this year.

The European Commission is planning to publish the final work programmes by April, but drafts circulated to research associations, universities and other stakeholders can already be found with a little Googling.

The Commission is to mark the start of Horizon Europe during an online event hosted with the Portuguese presidency of the EU Council next week. But with significant parts of the programme still being negotiated, the official publication of detailed documents setting out the calls planned for the first years of Horizon Europe is scheduled for April.

Most documents were found on the website of Hermes Partnership, a network of telecommunications research centres. Others are scattered on the websites of Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 University and Slovenian consulting firm TikoPro.

The terms on which the UK will be involved in Horizon Europe have not been finalised, but even so Sheffield University also has the drafts listed on its website - though the documents are locked in a Google Drive - while the UK BioIndustry Association, which represents medical biotech companies, is offering to send copies to its members on request.  

John Farserotu, chair and research director of Hermes told Science|Business that his organisation had come across the documents on the internet and decided to make them available to their network. “I am amazed to hear though that there is apparently still nothing more or newer online,” he said.

The sourcing of the documents from such a diverse group of research stakeholders suggests the drafts have been circulating for a while, despite the Commission’s stated intention of keeping them confidential until the official launch.

The work programmes found by Science|Business are:

A similar thing happened with the draft work programmes for Horizon 2020, before its official launch in 2014. Then a quick Google search served up several “confidential” documents, providing crucial information for those interested in applying for the first calls under the €70 billion programme.

That led to criticisms – denied by the Commission - that a select group of institutes and universities had been given a preview of the crucial documents, well ahead of the first round of calls.

The publication of draft work programmes has been a long-simmering issue in the Commission’s framework R&D programmes. The documents are written by Commission staffers in several drafts over a few years, and the later drafts are shared with the Programme Committees – the legally constituted groups of EU member state representatives who have a say in how the work programmes end up. That means there are hundreds of officials across the EU have access to the documents. Inevitably, they leak to universities, companies and others outside the formal legal process.

But the Commission itself has continued the fiction that the drafts are still non-public, on the grounds there could be last-minute changes before official publication.

In 2013 when Horizon 2020 began, Science|Business similarly published links to the draft documents, on the grounds that the unequal distribution of information would disadvantage grant applicants who didn’t happen to have the right connections.

Below, we have put together short summaries and links to the Horizon Europe drafts which are  now circulating online.

Pillar 1

The European Research Council

The first calls for grants for early-career researchers, mid-career scientists and proof of concept grants from the ERC were meant to be launched in January 2021. This never happened due to the delay in the EU budget agreement, which postponed the launch of Horizon Europe. The new programme officially launches on 2 February and ERC today announced it will publish the draft work programme for 2021 calls on its website by the beginning of February, three months ahead of schedule. 

The first actual grant calls for advanced researchers are planned for 20 May, according to the drafts found online. Meanwhile, the Synergy Grants for teams of scientists tackling complex issues will not be available this year, but are likely to resume in 2022.

Pillar 2

Health cluster

A draft from September describes sixteen calls for research planned in 2021-2022 on six topics: disease prevention; the links between environment and health; digital tools for health; tackling various diseases; strengthening healthcare systems; and supporting Europe’s health-related industries. In 2021, there is one call planned for each of the six topics.

The cluster will work hand in hand with the EU4Health programme. The research programme will produce knowledge which the health programme will utilise, the draft says.

Culture, creativity and inclusive society

The new cluster supporting research and innovation in the creative industries will fund three strands of research in the coming two years: democracy and governance; European cultural heritage and the cultural and creative industries; and social and economic transformations.

If all goes according to plan, the first calls in each one of the three focus areas will open on 31 March with a total budget of €147 million.

Civil security for society

A draft from September reveals there will be calls for research into better protection from crime and terrorism; effective management of external borders; infrastructure protection; cybersecurity; resilience to disasters; and increasing the impact of security R&I.

For most of these topics, European researchers will have to work on their own. With the exception of the disaster resilience, “international cooperation is explicitly encouraged only where appropriate and specifically supporting ongoing collaborative activities,” the draft says.

Digital, industry and space cluster

This 440-page draft outlines the details for fifteen big research calls aimed at enabling twin green and digital transitions and developing Europe’s strategic autonomy.

The Commission has six goals for the cluster: leadership in climate-neutral industrial value chains; increased autonomy in key value chains; digital sovereignty; a secure and data-agile economy; global space-based infrastructures; and creating human-centred technology.

Climate, energy and mobility

The activities in this cluster support the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A draft from November shows the green agenda will be supported through calls in six areas: climate sciences and responses to climate change; cross-sectoral solutions for the green transition; sustainable, secure and competitive energy supply; efficient, sustainable and inclusive energy use; clean and competitive solutions for all transport modes; and safe, resilient transport and smart mobility services for passengers and goods.

Food, Bioeconomy Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment

In 2021 and 2022, we can expect 19 calls in seven different areas in this cluster, ranging from biodiversity and ecosystem services to digital solutions in support of the green deal.

The first calls for each of the seven topics are set to launch on 15 April and the funding adds up to almost €900 million, according to the draft.

Pillar 3

The European Innovation Council

A draft work programme from July suggests there will be three open calls for funding.

The Pathfinder, which funds projects promising to develop radically new technologies, will give out grants of up to €3 million, down from €4 million in Horizon 2020. Meanwhile, the SME support programme, the Accelerator, will continue providing blended finance, a mix of equity and grant funding.

A new addition to the list is the Transition programme, which will support single applicants or small consortia building on the results from eligible Pathfinder or ERC Proof of Concept projects. It is unclear yet how much funding will be available for each project, but the innovators will be expected to demonstrate the technology “in application-relevant environments”, according to the draft.


Widening participation

The goal of the widening programme is to boost research performance in EU regions that are lagging behind. To do this, the Commission will launch three lines of action: enhancing networking between researchers in widening countries and their counterparts in leading R&I countries; reversing brain drain and encouraging brain circulation; and strengthening the European Research Area.

Specific calls in the next two years will fund the creation and upgrades of new centres of excellence with grants of up to €15 million; support twinning programmes to enhance networking between research institutions in widening countries and their internationally leading counterparts (including a one-off special programme for Western Balkans); and give out grants for attracting talent to widening countries.

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