Greece dominates Horizon Europe funding success among Widening countries

06 Mar 2024 | News

Six of the top 10 institutions in Widening countries to win funding from the research programme are Greek. The leading research centre says the secret to success is people and details

Greece dominates the list of top performers for winning Horizon Europe funding among the 15 EU Widening countries, with six out of the top 10 places taken by the country’s institutions.

Out on top is the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH), one of the largest research centres in the country, which has a strong focus on innovation in a wide range of fields, including energy, the environment, computing and agro-biotech.

With Horizon Europe approaching the halfway point of its seven-year life cycle, CERTH has won just over €100 million in grants from the programme.

“Our experience, based on hundreds of successfully executed European research and innovation projects, suggests [being familiar] with EU policy objectives, assessing the risks during the implementation and being impact-oriented minimises the risk of failing,” Dimitrios Tzovaras, chair of CERTH’s board told Science|Business.

To win EU funding, applicants should dive deeply into the nature of the grants, match the proposal to the stated objectives, find reliable partners, and be clear about expected impact of a project.

“We ensure that the projects we take on, or participate in, are implemented by people who demonstrate an outstanding performance both in research and research management,” Tzovaras said.

Number two on the list is the Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas (FORTH), which like CERTH is supervised by Greece’s general secretariat for research and innovation, part of the Greek Ministry of Development.

FORTH has a focus on winning Horizon Europe funding, with its chair Nektarios Tavernarakis, saying that maintaining international competitiveness is an “existential effort”.  

“Obtaining international funding […] is of strategic importance for FORTH, which also faces the challenge of being a research institution on the periphery of Europe, away from the main centres of excellence of central Europe,” Tavernarakis said.

FORTH has a dedicated grants support office, encourages cross-collaboration between its ten linked research institutes and has a technology transfer unit, the PRAXI network, to help scientists exploit their research commercially.

Tavernarakis says success in EU competitions does not come easily. “To be successful, one needs to painstakingly prepare a fully mature application,” he said. “It is not an easy task and it requires a lot of patience, persistence, and investigative work.”

He said there needs to be a higher level of participation in the Widening measures to generate a “meaningful impact through Europe’s most challenged regions”.

Outside Greece the top institution is the University of Tartu, Estonia, which is sixth on the list of total funds won from Horizon Europe. The country does not have a specific strategy for winning grants from the framework programme, but has for the past six years been focusing on increasing international R&D funding more generally.

One similarity with FORTH is the dedicated grant office, established in 2018 with an in-house grant writing service. The university has also introduced other financial and administrative support services for researchers, such as incentive grants for applicants to European Research Council calls and bonuses for ERC grant holders.

Siret Rutiku, head of the grant office at the University of Tartu, said the government has also played a role by increasing public R&D spending to 1% of the GDP, increasing investment in infrastructure and focusing on improving international R&D collaboration.

“In general, different countries and universities have their own ways to success, and no models can be copied,” Rutiku said. “But maybe setting a clear focus and goals, and establishing strong support services and foreseeing financial support, build the basic sine qua non of success.”




Are the Widening measures working?

The EU introduced Widening to the framework research programme in 2014 under Horizon 2020, with the goal of helping countries lagging in research and innovation performance to close the gap with Europe’s top performers.

The 15 Widening countries have won a total of €4.09 billion in net EU contributions from Horizon Europe, around 13.4% of the total. This is relatively low given Widening countries account for 27% of the EU’s total population, but is an improvement on Horizon 2020 when Widening countries won 9.46% of the money.

Institutions from Widening countries have signed 3,788 Horizon Europe grants to date, or 36% of the total. This is again a step up from the 24.3% won under Horizon 2020.

There is also a proportionally higher number of participants from Widening countries in Horizon Europe. Of the 21,500 participating institutions or scientists, 4,196 or 19.5% are from Widening countries, up from the 15.5% of the total under Horizon 2020.

But the gap between Widening countries and Europe’s top performers persists, with CERTH’s success dwarfed by Europe’s top institutions. France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique, the top performer in Horizon Europe, has won five times more funding. Overall, CERTH is the 29th top performer in Horizon Europe.

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