Horizon 2020 needed €159B more to fund all the excellent proposals

25 Jan 2024 | News

There is a long way to go to fill the funding gap, research commissioner Iiliana Ivanova told MEPs earlier this week. The details are in a soon-to-be published review of Horizon 2020, which will also look forward to the interim evaluation of Horizon Europe

European Commissioner for research and innovation, Iliana Ivanova, speaking to the European Parliament's ITRE committee this week. Photo: Alexis Haulot / European Union

Horizon 2020 would have needed an additional €159 billion to fund all high quality proposals, the European Commissioner for research and innovation, Iliana Ivanova, told the European Parliament on Tuesday.

The figure comes from the evaluation of the 2014 – 2020 research framework programme, which Ivanova said is due to be “literally published in the coming days.” She lauded the programme’s impact but said that challenges still remain. “We still have a long way to go to fill that [funding] gap,” she told the Parliament's ITRE research committee.

Horizon 2020 may have ended nearly four years ago, but budget woes for Horizon Europe are ongoing and are likely to be central to discussions on the next iteration of the EU research programme, Framework Programme 10 (FP10).

Maria Leptin, president of the programme’s main basic research funding agency, the European Research Council (ERC), said it will need at least double the budget to fund all excellent proposals. “It really depends on what Europe wants,” Leptin told Science|Business. “We keep saying that we are leaders in science and innovation. Are we?”

When the ERC was established in 2007, its ideal budget was calculated at €2 billion annually, but only now has it reached that level. “It should have gone up,” Leptin said. In its position paper on FP10 published Wednesday, the ERC is calling for €5 billion per year. “The ERC has funded over 13,000 projects but has not been able to fund many equally outstanding proposals due to a continuing lack of appropriate budget,” it said.

There have been several calls from research and innovation stakeholders, industry associations and MEPs for FP10 to have a budget of €200 billion, just over double that of Horizon Europe.

This sum currently appears unrealistic. EU member states are still locked in negotiations over the bloc’s budget for 2025 – 2027, and the deal currently on the table would mean €2.1 billion in cuts for the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research programme, as well as cuts in other programmes. A meeting of the EU Council next week will seek to finalise the deal that is currently being held up by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán over objections to a €50 billion support package for Ukraine.

When MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho asked Ivanova on Tuesday if she would support a €200 billion budget for FP10, the commissioner vowed to insist on a higher budget.

“If I am asked what is my top priority that I want to succeed in the remaining months of my term, I would say that I would like to convince the member states and the decision makers of the strategic importance of the investments into R&I,” Ivanova said.

“We are at serious risk of [lagging] behind in the [global R&I] race,” she added. “In the Council, as we know the latest news is not that optimistic… [but] I will not stop making the case of the strategic importance of R&I. I will of course insist on a higher budget.”

Beyond the budget issue, Ivanova addressed a laundry list of other issues during the Parliament session.

Strategic plan 2025 - 2027

The second strategic plan for Horizon Europe, covering the years 2025 - 2027, will be adopted in March, Ivanova said. She promised it would be simpler and aligned to the Commission’s three priorities: the green transition, the digital transition and creating a more resilient, competitive, inclusive and democratic Europe.

The concept of open strategic autonomy and developing and deploying critical technologies will now sit as an overarching principle in the plan. It will also identify the second batch of European partnerships.

The Commission has also committed to allocating 10% of the Horizon Europe budget for the final three years to topics related to biodiversity, up from 7.5%.

Separately, the interim evaluation of Horizon Europe looking at the programme’s performance at the half-way point is to be published in early 2025.


Ivanova said that challenges related to Horizon Europe’s Widening scheme, designed to close the R&I gap between top performing and lagging countries, “still persist”.

These include limited capacity in Widening countries to manage international R&I projects, brain drain, weak national support systems and a lack of easily available funding alternatives, the commissioner said.

While there has been some progress between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, much of the success is limited to just a few countries. National reforms are necessary to help close the EU’s R&I gap, but they are not the only factor, and European level initiatives such as the Widening are still important.

“We need to build on the wide European talent base and this includes engaging new players across sectors, scientific disciplines and countries,” Ivanova said.

Association of third countries

The Commission is planning for 19 new countries to be associated to Horizon Europe in 2024 as part of the goal of securing international partnerships. The final signature on the Canada association deal is expected by mid-2024, but the country can already apply for calls in pillar 2 of Horizon Europe as the deal will be retroactively applied to begin at the start of this year.

Ivanova welcomed the association deal with the UK, which came into force at the beginning of this year. She will travel to the UK in February to meet the UK’s secretary of state for science, Michelle Donelan.

Ivanova said that she held positive talks last week with Swiss representatives and the next round of association talks with the country are scheduled for the end of this month. It is hoped negotiations will begin this spring, with association finalised by the end of this year or early 2025.

Finally, she expects South Korea’s association agreement, which will allow it to participate in pillar 2 projects, to become effective in 2025.

Freedom of scientific research

The European Parliament is leading a push for EU legislation on scientific freedom and plans to present a report on the matter. Ivanova was asked about this initiative and welcomed the idea. “I believe this report is fully in line with the Commission’s initiatives to further promote and protect the freedom of scientific research as a fundamental element of the European Research Area,” she said.

Advanced materials for industry:

In September last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen set the topic of “advanced materials for industrial leadership” as one of the Commission’s key priorities for 2024. It’s part of a wider initiative to secure the EU’s access to critical materials. Ivanova said on Tuesday that the Commission will put forward a policy communication on this topic in the first quarter of 2024, with the goal of having a common approach with industry by the end of the year.

Revamped funding

The Commission is working on making the Horizon Europe funding and tender portal more “client-centric” and expects to launch the revamped portal during the EU R&I Days event in March.

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