The Widening 33: Ten graphs show how the research landscape in EU 2004 members has changed

10 May 2024 |

This month marks 20 years since the EU’s largest single enlargement, when 10 countries joined the union. In today’s newsletter, we look at how the research and innovation landscape has changed in those countries over the past two decades. There are a lot of encouraging signs, but also a few areas of decline and stagnation. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology is also celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its Regional Innovation Scheme, aimed at closing Europe’s innovation gap. It’s been a huge success, the EIT says, but now is time for evolution. We also take a deep dive into the Teaming instrument of the Widening measures, and look at how Estonia is using the EU’s post-pandemic funds to propel investment in green tech start-ups

The latest news

TWENTY YEARS OF EU IN 10 GRAPHS: Research funding, innovation performance, scientific papers, international cooperation… We look at what has changed in the EU’s 2004 members. We also cast our eyes to the future. “The next 20 years will be different and we’ll have to adapt again, but with the resilience and maturity of the system, we’ll be better prepared to respond,” said one commentator. “I think the best is yet to come”. Read our article here

TEAMING IS POPULAR BUT COMPLICATED: Teaming for Excellence is one of the most popular instruments under Horizon Europe’s Widening scheme, supporting the creation or upgrade of centres of excellence. It was launched in 2014 and has been a success, but stakeholders say the co-funding element is ambiguous, local admin is complicated, and there is uncertainty about how the centres will become self-sufficient in the future. Anna Rzhevkina has the story

ESTONIA’S GREEN TECH GETS INVESTMENT BOOST: Estonia is banking €100 million of its post-pandemic EU recovery funds on trying to bolster venture capital for green tech start-ups and scale-ups. In a country where there is a dearth of funds available for later stage investment rounds, it could be a game changing policy for the Baltic state’s innovation ecosystem. Ian Mundell has the story

BIGGER SUCCESS BEATS MORE START-UPS: The European Institute of Technology and Innovation (EIT) set up its Regional Innovation Scheme in 2014 with the goal of closing Europe’s innovation gap and supporting countries with weaker innovation ecosystems. The scheme has grown organically and, according to the EIT, has been a big success. But now the EIT wants to change tack and help the start-ups that it has supported to grow, rather than backing new ones. Read the full story here.

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY? We welcome opinion pieces and other contributions on R&I policy in central and eastern Europe. Send yours to [email protected].

In other news

HUNGARY SLAMS EU FUNDING BAN: Hungary has opened calls under its newly created €20 million HU-RIZONT research funding programme, set up to compensate for the EU banning over 30 of the country’s research institutions, including 21 universities, from receiving Horizon Europe funds due to rule of law concerns. These institutions are also banned from winning Erasmus+ funds. Announcing the opening of the HU-RIZONT call, Balázs Hankó, secretary of state responsible for innovation and higher education, hit out at the EU ban. “In the face of the European Commission's unjust, discriminatory decision, which goes against the competitiveness of Hungary and Europe, we believe in the importance of international research cooperation, which is why we are launching the HU-rizont programme, which will help us to fund research in the interests of Hungarian society and economy, while also covering the research costs of the best foreign universities,” he said. The EU ban relates to the management structures of institutions and universities, which the EU considers undermine academic freedom. Little progress on lifting the ban has been made despite a series of negotiations between Brussels and Budapest. The call for proposals under the HU-RIZONT scheme closes on July 5. 

ESTONIA JOINS EU-JAPAN CALL: Estonia is going to participate for the first time in a European Interest Group (EIG) CONCERT-Japan joint call, ‘Digital Transformations and Robotics in Sustainable Agriculture’ which will open later this month. Research is expected to begin in the first half of 2025. The EIG CONCERT-Japan supports research cooperation between Europe and Japan. Currently, 14 European countries are involved in the latest call for proposals, which is the 11th overall. Find out more information here, including where to look for partners. 

SINO-MALTA FUND: This year’s SINO-MALTA Fund call is launching this month, supporting R&I activities in the fields of health, green and blue economy and digital technologies. The fund supports collaborations between Chinese and Maltese partners. There is a total of €1.2 million available with each consortium eligible for up to €200,000. Find a consortium partner at this link, and more information about the call here

YOUNG RESEARCHERS WANT AI TRAINING: Nearly 70% of 152 young researchers surveyed in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are very interested in receiving training on using AI tools for intellectual property scanning or funding application processes, a new study has found. Just under 40% of those surveyed are also highly interested in gaining new skills in commercialising research and collaborating with industry. The study is part of a series looking at challenges that young researchers in central and eastern Europe face in their careers. The first paper in the series, looking at  navigating the path from academia to industry is here

PROGRESS ON POLAND’S SMR PLANS: Poland is moving ahead with plans for a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) project as part of plans to produce 50,000 tonnes of low-carbon energy yearly after several ministries approved the initiative. The project is being developed by state owned industrial group Industria with Rolls-Royce SMR technology. Small-scale nuclear power stations are billed as being safer and cheaper than conventional reactors and should be quicker to build because of standardised designs that can be manufactured at scale and shipped to the site. The technology is still largely unproven, but several projects or feasibility studies are planned around the world, including in Romania, Czechia and Slovakia. Earlier this year, the European Commission opened a call to look for industry partners to join a new alliance to advance the development and deployment of small modular reactors. 

LATVIAN UNIVERSITY JOINS EIT DIGITAL: Riga Technical University has joined EIT Digital, opening the door to benefits such as support for students commercialising research ideas, access to grants, online training and access to a network of investors and partners. The EIT Digital Partner community comprises over 350 companies, SMEs, start-ups, universities, and research institutes. Read more here

CZECH START-UP SUPPORT: The CzechInvest agency is launching another challenge of the Technological Incubation project, which, through seven technologically specialised hubs, supports start-ups and new companies bringing innovative technologies to market. Applications will be accepted from May 2 to 30. There is CZK 118 million (around €4.7 million) available for applicants. 

ERA IN THE BALKANS: The European Commission has published its latest country reports on western Balkan countries’ involvement and integration in the European Research Area. Read the full reports for each country here.

Mark your calendars 

TALLINN, 15-16 MAY: Universitiesinnovators and investors in the Baltics, along with representatives of the EIT will gather in the capital of Estonia to discuss the role of higher education in deep tech innovation ecosystems. More details here.

RIGA, 16-17 MAY: The Deep Tech Atelier: The Baltics’ largest deep tech industry event aims to bring together entrepreneurs, scientists and technology developers, investors, government, and public organisations. Register here.

VIENNA, 4 JUNE: Startups, investors and corporations will connect, share innovative ideas and start collaborations at the Connect Day 24. The Slovak Business Agency has more details here.  

BRNO, 13 JUNE: European Research Council president Maria Leptin is to visit Brno where she will give a speech at the “ERC Scientific Mini-conference”, hosted by Ceitec. More information here.

KYIV, 18 JUNE: Founders, investors and public institutions will gather in the capital city of Ukraine to talk about uplifting the tech ecosystem in the war-torn country. Read more about PowerUp Ukraine here.

The Widening newsletter is a roundup of news and analysis of research and innovation policy and investments in central and eastern Europe, delivered to your inbox twice a month. Sign up here.

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