What’s in the strategic plan for the final years of Horizon Europe?

21 Mar 2024 | News

The Commission’s guide to the next phase of EU’s R&I framework programme was published this week. It includes new partnerships, a research security section and a beefed up context for the EU missions

The European Commission this week published its strategic plan for the final three years of Horizon Europe, 2025 to 2027. This builds on the first half of the seven-year research and innovation programme, and while overall similar, there are small differences.

For a start, the new plan acknowledges Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and war in the Middle East, with a new section on research security, reflecting the growing tensions of geopolitics.

In addition nine new partnerships have been announced, bringing the total number under Horizon Europe to 58.

How the wars in Ukraine and Gaza are approached in the plan, aside from acknowledging they are happening, is more abstract. One change is that the concept of ‘open strategic autonomy’, the guiding principle behind the EU’s approach to international cooperation and collaboration, has been made a cross-cutting theme across all three of the plan’s ‘key strategic orientations’ (KSOs).

The KSOs are essentially the overall goals of the programme’s plan. Open strategic autonomy used to be a standalone KSO, but now in theory should permeate the three others. The remaining three KSOs, which remain the same, are on the green transition, the digital transition and “a more resilient, competitive, inclusive and democratic Europe”.

The concept of setting KSOs for the strategic plan has its critics, with Joep Roet, deputy director of the Netherlands house for Education and Research, saying he doubts the usefulness of the strategic plan as a planning tool. “Can we really claim to have three key strategic orientations, when the third is a basket of everything that is not green and digital?” he told Science|Business.

Another new addition to the strategic plan is a section on research security to provide context for tackling foreign R&I interference and limiting foreign collaboration on certain calls related to sensitive technologies. The European Commission published a proposal for Council recommendations on research security on 24 January this year, calling for actions at the member state level to increase research security.

Also in January, the Commission put out a white paper on the possibilities of boosting dual-use research in the next framework programme. The proposed reform would remove the exclusive focus on civil applications in “selected parts” of FP10.

Research security was raised at this week’s R&I days event in Brussels organised by the European Commission. Rebecca Keiser, chief of research security and strategy at the US National Science Foundation, sounded a warning about communicating the topic to scientists. Europe could learn from the US’s “missteps,” she said.

“We started by maybe communicating too much in a security-centric way,” she said during a panel on research security. “The language we were using perhaps was much more from the security agencies. It didn’t resonate very well, I think, with the academic sector.”

Keiser is involved in setting up a centre to help US universities share information about foreign partners and projects that could be a security risk.

To get academics on board, “Specific case studies” are important, she said. In addition, warnings to scientists that their “lifetime work, their ideas, can be stolen and taken by someone else, and improperly used” resonated much more than messages about “good guys and bad guys.”


Beyond this, the Commission is also proposing nine new European Partnerships for the final three years of Horizon Europe. These cover topics including brain health, raw materials, textiles and virtual worlds.

Research partnerships that combine private and public money have been part of the EU’s research frameworks for the last three decades. They are intended to boost industries that need a leg up to advance innovation. In more recent years, they have been looked to as a tool to advance EU policy and geopolitical goals in areas such as the green and digital transitions.

In the first half of Horizon Europe, the EU launched 49 partnerships in four areas: health; digital and industry; climate, energy and mobility; and food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture and environment.

So far, €24.8 billion has been directed into the partnerships from Horizon Europe, with a further €35.6 billion coming from non-EU partners.

The new partnerships:

• Brain Health

• Forests and Forestry for a Sustainable Future

• Raw Materials for the Green and Digital Transition

• Resilient Cultural Heritage

• Social Transformations and Resilience

• Innovative Materials for the EU

• Solar Photovoltaics

• Textiles of the Future

• Virtual Worlds

A 10th partnership on In-Orbit Demonstration and Validation, allowing companies to test products in space, was previously proposed by the Commission but has since been dropped.

The nine partnerships need to be approved by a selection committee ahead of their adoption in Horizon Europe work programmes. One diplomat told Science|Business on the sidelines of the Commission’s R&I days event in Brussels that they wished member states were more involved in the process of choosing the partnerships, saying it is a process controlled by the European Commission with little room for outside input.


The new strategic plan also attempts to make progress on the EU Missions, which the Commission itself found were failing to deliver in an expert report published in February.

The Commission launched the missions in 2021 with a budget of €1.9 billion, which was intended to attract further investment. The goal was to give a boost to multilevel research cooperation and deliver results in five key areas: fight cancer, help Europe adapt to climate change, protect seas and rivers, promote carbon neutral cities and foster soil health.

The new strategic plan promises that “more work will be done to ensure that missions successfully shift from their initial phase to deployment and impact”, adding that “diversifying funding and financing sources”, that is, attracting more private investment, “is crucial”.

The plan also acknowledges the need to better communicate the goals of the missions to the public to ensure their success.

The Bauhaus

The updated strategy introduces the New European Bauhaus, which was first established in 2020 and is now integrated into the plan. The initiative is about greening Europe’s construction and building sector, as well as the urban landscape. In the Horizon Europe 2025-2027 work programmes, this initiative will sit as a “cross-cluster” component across all six of the programme’s pillar II clusters. The idea will be to draw funds to the initiative from other EU programmes.

The European Commission had wanted to turn the New European Bauhaus into a sixth EU mission, an idea shot down by member states last year.

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