Final years of Horizon 2020 to fund EU’s ‘political priorities’

Remaining three years of funding programme to focus on carbon reduction, climate change resilience, digitisation and cybersecurity

October 27, 2017
Pile of rubbish on a bike
Source: Getty
Waste not: the final tranche of Horizon 2020 funding will include €941 million for work on the ‘circular economy’

The European Union is to focus billions of euros of research funding on tackling the continent’s political priorities, such as cybersecurity and digitising industry.

Setting out how the final €30 billion (£26.6 billion) of Horizon 2020 funding will be spent, Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation, said: “We are aligning the programme with the priorities of president Juncker [Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission].”

“One of the things we did differently this time is give direction to the scientists,” he told a press conference in Brussels.

This means that the final three years of Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme, will focus on “fewer topics with bigger budgets”, according to a statement from the commission.

Some €3.3 billion is earmarked for research on a “low-carbon, climate resilient future”. “Digitising and transforming European industry and services”, an area that Mr Moedas called a “missing link” for Europe, will be backed by €1.7 billion. A further €941 million will go towards the “circular economy” – an attempt to reduce waste and increase recycling – and €1 billion will be spent on research that bolsters the EU’s security, focusing on areas such as cybersecurity.

In addition, €200 million will also go towards researching the causes and patterns of migration.

As expected, Mr Moedas also confirmed €2.7 billion for a pilot European Innovation Council (EIC), a body to help stimulate “innovation that creates markets that didn’t exist before, so you create new jobs”. Some academics are wary of the commission’s shift towards supporting innovation, fearing that it could hurt funding for basic research.

Horizon 2020 already contains funding streams to promote innovation – helping small and medium-sized companies get new ideas off the ground, for example – and the EIC is partly an attempt to consolidate lots of different pots of money under one name. “We need one brand, and one brand only, in Europe,” Mr Moedas said.

But it will also focus more on funding “bottom-up” ideas, and innovators themselves, rather than specific ideas, he said. Applicants seeking support will be interviewed to see if they are a “real innovator”, Mr Moedas explained.

In addition, €460 million will also be allocated to researchers in countries “that do not yet participate in the programme to their full potential. The aim is to tap into the unexploited pockets of excellence in Europe and beyond,” according to a commission statement. This is likely in response to one persistent criticism of EU research funding: that it disproportionately goes to academics in countries with already excellent research systems, leaving countries in Eastern Europe bereft of grants.

The commission will also trial giving researchers a “lump sum” to conduct their work, in the hope that this will cut down on financial bureaucracy during projects. It will do away with “all obligations on cost reporting and financial ex post audits”, according to the commission, moving from a “control-based system” to a “trust-based system”.

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