Horizon 2020: The views in Brussels (Science|Business)


Article written by Peter Koekoek, Science|Business

The European Commission has released its official proposal for Horizon 2020, the EU's new research funding scheme. Science|Business presents a roundup of first reactions from the European capital.

Yesterday (30 November), the European Commission released its official proposal for the EU's new €80 billion R&D funding programme: Horizon 2020. It promises less red tape, broader benefits, and more jobs and economic growth. But before the proposal becomes reality, it will have to pass through the EU's legislature. Science|Business presents a roundup of the first reactions from the European Parliament, and some of the interest groups that will be influencing the process.

More Jobs, less Einstein

Lambert van Nistelrooij, the European People's Party's (EPP) coordinator for regional development in the European Parliament and advocate of using structural funds for innovation, is pleased to see the significant budget increase. Van Nistelrooij told Science|Business he believes this will give a powerful sign that Europe is "willing to invest and work hard to become a world leader in knowledge." He also welcomed the simplification measures: "The bureaucratic burden has been much too heavy for researchers in recent years, and with this new programme it really is time to make significant changes."

Maria da Graca Carvalho, an EPP member of the European Parliament who has been in the forefront of the campaign for simplification of the EU research funding programmes, believes the proposal forms a good basis, but says the Commission should be wary of oversimplification. "It should not be simpler than necessary. We don't need any unnecessary red tape, but sometimes reality is complex. We have different institutions and different member states, and that has to be translated somewhere in the rules," Carvalho told Science|Business with regard to the new simplified rules for funding applications.

The Liberals and Democrats group (ALDE) in Parliament also welcomed the steep budget increase: "In times of budget cuts, we should not forget about our future growth needs. Investing in R&D is money well spent," said Jens Rohde, ALDE coordinator in the ITRE committee. Rohde supports a shift in focus towards the commercialisation of research results: "If we are to truly improve European competitiveness we must eliminate the research to retail gap."

Judith Merkies, a member of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament (S&D) and the ITRE committee's Innovation Union rapporteur believes the Commission's Horizon 2020 proposal lacks an emphasis on job creation. Merkies said that even though Europe wants sustainable growth and jobs, the new proposal mainly focusses on research: "The EU is already good in Einstein, but not yet in Jobs," she said.

Reimbursement of costs

The League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association of leading research-intensive universities released a statement saying the new scheme could boost employment at universities:  "A reimbursement of a 100% of direct costs will mean a true simplification for the participants [...]The new rules should enable universities to recruit staff specifically to work on Horizon 2020 projects and thus enhance and build up the next generation of researchers in Europe."

John H. Smith, Deputy Secretary General of the European University Association (EUA) told Science|Business that although happy with the Commission's continued commitment, he is strongly critical of one particular last minute change which would see indirect costs reimbursed at only twenty per cent. "[The] proposal in earlier drafts of Horizon2020 of a 75%/75% reimbursement rate with the retaining of the possibility for real indirect costs would have constituted a further step forward [...] The new proposal, on the contrary, will be seen as a step backwards and inconsistent with the European policy agenda  concerning the modernization of universities," Smith said.

Industry participation

In a statement, BusinessEurope says it welcomes "the streamlining of the EU research and innovation funding instruments introduced with Horizon 2020 and the substantial increase in funding proposed". But BusinessEurope, which represents small, medium sized and large businesses at a European level, believes that ultimately Horizon2020's success will depend on whether it will be able to attract more industrial stakeholders in EU research and innovation projects: "Continued simplification of the procedural rules for participation is needed in order to increase industry's participation rate."

The pharmaceutical industry federation EFPIA praised the plan's emphasis on public-private partnerships (PPPs), and said it wants to build on its existing PPP with the Commission in healthcare research, the Innovative Medicines Initiative. "The European Commission should be commended for their intention to further develop public-private partnerships (PPP). There is shared understanding that private companies and public bodies must collaborate more and to think about new business models which allow us to work much more quickly to meet unmet needs", said Richard Bergström, Director General of EFPIA.

Nathalie Moll, Secretary General of the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio) is content the Commission has listed biotechnology as one of the six key areas that research and innovation funding should focus on: "Research and innovation coupled with coherent and workable legislation will ensure Europe and its innovative industries such as biotechnology strive for the enhancement of quality of life, knowledge, innovation, job creation and productivity that we so clearly need.  We hope that the European Parliament and the European Council will back the Commission's proposal so as to help Europe realise its potential as a world leader in excellence in science and innovation."

Click here for the European Commission's official Horizon2020 Documents.