Research-friendly state aid rules to come into force this month

01 Jul 2021 | News

Member states will have fewer constraints in directing EU structural and cohesion funds to research and innovation

Berlaymont building. Photo : European Union

Member states will soon be allowed to spend EU structural funds to co-finance Horizon Europe partnerships research projects that receive the European Commission’s seal of excellence, according to updated state aid rules expected to come into force by the end of the month.

The seal of excellence was designed to give researchers from poorer EU countries a helping hand in finding money for their projects. According to the initial plan, the seal was given by Horizon 2020 evaluators to excellent projects which failed to get a grant from the EU due to high subscription rates.

With their seal in hand, researchers could ask their governments to finance their projects from structural funds, a string of EU funds which are managed directly by member states. However, previous state aid rules prevented the governments in doing so.

Under new rules, which are expected to come into force this month, member states will have fewer constraints in directing EU structural and cohesion funds to research and innovation, according to EU officials speaking at an online event on Wednesday, presenting participation rules in Horizon Europe.

The new rules also allow member states to co-finance research partnerships in Horizon Europe. The partnerships are joint research ventures organised by EU member states, national research funders and other public authorities. The partnerships receive up to 30% of the financing directly from Horizon Europe, while the rest of the money comes from the other partners.

The new state aid rules would allow member states to pay their contributions to the partnerships from cohesion and structural funds. The simplification means national governments no longer need a separate assessment of compliance to state-aid rules.

The relaxed rules would also allow the use of structural funds to fund science-based start-ups.

In a break with the past, member states are also allowed to spend up to 5% of structural funds on research and innovation projects that meet Horizon Europe standards, but which fail to win grants because of the high level of competition.

Member states will be allowed to do so without any state aid assessment state, if the funds are unused and no additional conditions are being attached to the financing.

For research and innovation projects, member states will no longer have to launch state aid notification procedures and are automatically authorized to grant the aid if all legal conditions are met, the Commission officials said.

The Commission had intended to introduce the changes as early as 2018.

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