Widening newsletter 28: Former research commissioner backs Horizon Europe Widening measures amidst calls for change

22 Feb 2024 |

There is always a lot of fuss about the effectiveness of current policies intended to close Europe’s research and innovation gap, but it is worth remembering the deep-rooted historical reasons for its existence. In this week’s newsletter, we dive into new research looking at the lasting impact of 45 years of Communism and a hurried transition to a market economy on eastern Germany’s innovation performance. Take note: investment alone cannot solve the problem. Elsewhere, we look at why a leading tech conference CEO is optimistic about central and eastern Europe’s start-up scene despite a downturn in investment, and what the EU’s former research commissioner has to say about Horizon Europe’s Widening measures amidst calls for change.

Latest news

WIDENING MEASURES ARE POWERFUL TOOL: With growing calls for reform of Widening measures, soon-to-be Bulgarian prime minister and former European research commissioner Mariya Gabriel has spoken out in their favour. She told the Science|Business annual conference - celebrating 40 years of the EU Framework research programmes – that with Europe facing global competitive challenges it is more important than ever that all EU member states are able to reach their full innovation potential. Read the story here

FORTUNE FAVOURS THE FRUGAL: Central and eastern Europe’s start-up scene can become as innovative and global as the Nordic countries’, according to the CEO of How to Web, a leading tech conference in Romania. Despite 2023 being a generally bad year for start-up investment, the region has proven resilient and the rise of new companies using AI technology and its lower cost base could add to its attractiveness. “Unlike their over-funded US and western European counterparts, companies from eastern Europe always had robust unit economics and financial stability,” Alexandru Agatinei, CEO of How to Web, told Science|Business. Read the full article here

LONG SHADOW OF THE COMMAND ECONOMY: Nearly 45 years of Communism and a hurried transition to a market economy has had a profound and long-lasting negative impact on east Germany’s innovation performance, a new research paper shows. Investment alone is not enough to turn it around, according to one of the co-authors. To restore local innovation ecosystems, in east Germany and elsewhere in the former Eastern Bloc states, efforts to build community trust and to strengthen governance are required. Read the 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

MALTA OPTS FOR NEW SYNERGY TOOL: Malta has become the first EU country to successfully use a new synergy tool that allows funds from the European Regional Development Fund to be transferred to Horizon Europe. This means proposals that did not make the funding cut under Horizon Europe can be financed through ERDF. 

Five Maltese proposals for ERA fellowships have been approved for funding under this scheme, with Malta proposing €5 million be transferred from ERDF to Horizon Europe over the next five years. Lithuania is currently the only other country that has used the new synergy tool. You can read more about it in our article from June 2023 here

ESTONIA LEADS ARTIFICAL INTELLIGENCE SAFETY PUSH: A consortium of four European universities, led by Tallinn University of Technology, has committed to creating the Estonian Centre for Safe and Trustworthy AI (ECSTAI). The consortium includes the University of Tartu, the Technical University of Munich and Radboud University in the Netherlands.

The country’s former minister of foreign trade and IT and current MP, Andres Sutt, said the Baltic country is the perfect home for this initiative. “We have always been at the frontier and open to new adventures that technology brings us. That has enabled us to build an ecosystem that is also open to the implementation of AI,” he said. Find out more here

POLAND’S BASIC RESEARCH GETS A BOOST: Poland’s National Science Centre is to get a top up of PLN 200 million (€46 million) to this year’s budget after months of calling for urgent financial support. The injection of funds was announced by the country’s new science minister Dariusz Wieczorek on 14 February. 

As the main agency funding basic research, the National Science Centre has faced severe budget shortages for some time. The agency wrote to the previous government last summer to ask for an extra PLN 300 million, but this was ignored. Now, the new government that took up power in December has delivered on its promise.

FIRST POLISH UNIVERSITY VC: The Warsaw University of Technology has become the first Polish university to establish a venture capital fund in the country. The WUT Investment Factory will support early stage deep tech companies created by teams from WUT and other Polish universities. Find out more here

SLOVENIA’S NEW BIOTECH HUB: Slovenia’s National Biology Institute (NIB) has opened a €36 million biotech research hub in Ljubljana. The facility is 80% funded by EU cohesion funds, with construction beginning back in 2021. NIB is an independent institution focused on basic and applied research in biotech, biophysics, biomedicine and systems biology. Slovenian science and innovation minister Igor Papič described the facility as “extremely important progress in terms of material conditions”. “If we have suitable rooms for research and, even more importantly, suitable research equipment, the work of researchers is of course significantly easier and more efficient,” he said. 

CYPRUS TEAMS UP WITH ISRAEL: Cyprus’ Research and Innovation Foundation has partnered with Israel’s Ministry of Science Technology to launch a joint funding initiative with a total budget of €1.8 million, €900,000 from each side. The initiative will fund projects in fields involovng both countries’ specialisations, including maritime and shipping ecosystems, clean tech, health and environment. The maximum budget for each proposal is €200,000. See here for more information. 

Mark your calendars

ONLINE, 29 FEBRUARY & 4 MARCH: Several research organisations from central and eastern Europe, including Brussels-based liaison offices and Hungary’s Corvinus University, are hosting two virtual webinars on recent EU developments on research security and dual use legislation. These are two hot topics and this is a chance for stakeholders to learn more about what the EU is planning. There will be keynote speeches from representatives of the European Commission’s research directorate at both webinars. Find out more here.

BRNO, 18 – 19 MARCH: Alliance4Life, a partnership of life science institutions and universities from central and eastern Europe, is on a mission to improve research institutes in Widening countries and close the east-west research and innovation gap. With that goal in mind, it is kicking off the A4L_BRIDGE project, which will work to translate health research results into biomedical applications through steering institutional reforms. Find out more here.

KRAKOW, 15 - 16 APRIL: The Cancer Drug Development Forum is hosting a multi-stakeholder workshop on clinical research in central and eastern Europe. It will focus on the fast-growing clinical trials market in the region and how the conflict in Ukraine is playing a role in shaping it. Find out more here

KAUNAS, 21 - 23 MAY: The 20th International Conference of Young Scientists on Energy and Natural Sciences Issues (CYSENI), organised by the Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI) and Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry, takes place in May this year. The goal is to discuss issues and perspectives on natural sciences and the energy sector on a global scale. Registration is open until 9 February

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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