EU officials pitch ‘Horizon Europe’ as name for next research programme

24 Apr 2018 | News

Draft papers show European Commission staff opting for familiarity, and a sprinkle of salesmanship, with successor to Horizon 2020

The secret is out: European Commission officials are pitching Horizon Europe as the name for the next research programme.

The not-yet-confirmed choice, revealed in draft Commission documents, would replace the awkward ‘Framework Programme 9’ title the research programme has carried for over a year, and ensure what some Commission officials have privately referred to as the continuation of a successful brand (the current programme is called Horizon 2020).

Lodging EU research more firmly in the public consciousness has grown into something like a crusade for the holder of the portfolio, Carlos Moedas. It’s also important for building enough political support to achieve his budget goal: A big jump in funding from the current €77 billion, seven-year Horizon 2020.

The research commissioner has spoken openly about feeling burnt in the wake of the huge discovery of seven potentially inhabitable nearby planets last year. Nearly all the resulting press coverage focused on the use of a NASA telescope, when in fact it was an EU-funded Belgian, Michaël Gillon, who led the extraordinary space discovery.

“I am not criticising NASA, they do their job, they announced it. But we have to be bolder as Europeans to tell the story,” the commissioner said at the time.

Better branding

This apparently entails becoming savvier on branding and communicating. For the new research programme, which will run between 2021 and 2027, there would be sharper focus on “promot[ing] the fact that the results were obtained with the support of Union funding” through “a targeted use of social media” the draft says. The programme “may make use of advanced technologies and intelligence tools for harvesting knowledge… and provide innovative data uses and visualisation.” More funding would be put aside for “open access to research results and data, availability to publications, knowledge repositories and other data sources.”

These proposals are still being worked on internally before publication of the research programme in early June. Successive drafts of the programme have been circulating in Brussels for weeks.

Yet the latest proposals already demonstrate a refined salesmanship, and connect to the commissioner’s goal of injecting some excitement in Europe through new science missions.

A take on research ‘moonshots’, missions, as described in the draft document, “must be readily understandable to the public [and] captivating in nature”, such as achieving plastic-free oceans by 2030 or ensuring the survival of three out of four cancer patients by 2034 (two ideas suggested in an influential report by former head of the World Trade Organization Pascal Lamy).

The commissioner has recruited Mariana Mazzucato, an economist at University College London, to help sell the merit of missions-based funding, an approach used by US president John F. Kennedy in 1961, when he promised to send a man to the moon and return him safely (a goal achieved eight years later).

The public needs to hear something stirring and feel inspired, Moedas has said. “We don’t feel the same sense of purpose as we did in the past. We say we will invest more in materials or in renewables but people in the street don’t understand much of that. If I talked to my mother or my grandmother about mapping the brain, they will wonder why. People will connect more with a goal, such as creating an all-electric plane.”

The Commission believes missions could boost its brand too, motivating researchers to take big new strides and create what one official called “positive narratives” in the process.

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