Imprensa

Artigos de Opinião

Horizon 2020

2013-08-30 - Pan European Networks

Research and innovation are the foundation on which further economic development and job creation can be built. Advancements in science are equally crucial to the improvement of our quality of life as this includes such matters of direct concern to Europeans as health or air and water quality. We cannot achieve these improvements in the quality of life in Europe without a properly weighted budget that promotes the distinct advantages of research at European level.

Horizon 2020 - the European Research and Innovation programme that will run from 2014 to 2020 with a budget of €70 billion - is a cornerstone of European policy in this field. The €70 billion investment will be evenly distributed between three fundamental pillars: "excellence in science", "industrial leadership" and "societal challenges".  

However, Horizon 2020 is much more than a funding programme: it will be a fundamental instrument in structuring research and innovation in Europe over the years to come. In particular, it was designed to be as simple as possible; effectively and adequately funded, include a comprehensive approach to the passage from research to market and be designed in such a way as to overcome fragmentation and to encourage collaboration across Europe and beyond. 

Generally speaking, the negotiations progressed positively with the Irish Presidency displaying increasing willingness to accommodate the positions adopted by the European Parliament.  All of the Parliament's recommendations have since been taken up in the new programme. In so far as the contribution that the Parliament made to the final nature of Horizon 2020, the following three areas are particularly noteworthy.

a) Strengthening of the industrial base.  Parliament made a determined effort to ensure that Europe's industrial base is strengthened and this is reflected in the second pillar "Industrial Leadership".  Indeed, over the last few years, there has been a significant drop in the industrial participation in Framework Programmes for Research.  This is in a context in which Europe has difficulty converting high quality research into marketable products and services. 

The Parliament identified a number of areas that required particular attention.  These included greater incentives to industry participation in European projects; support for industry across the whole of the industrial cycle and the integration of standardisation into technological development projects.  The Parliament also sought to ensure easier access for SMEs and defended a "dedicated SME instrument" with a bottom-up approach alongside a 20% rate of participation for SMEs in Horizon 2020.  This was a policy that was agreed with the Council. The Parliament was also particularly keen to ensure the collaborative research was a key objective in Horizon 2020 and that this was correctly balanced between large integrative projects and smaller, more focussed projects.  

b) Widening of participation.  The Parliament was also directly engaged in ensuring that excellence was firmly established at the heart of Horizon 2020.  This involves, on the one hand, encouraging the participation of regions that have shown lower levels of participation in the past and, on the other hand, the widening of bottom-up participation across the three pillars.

In so far as the stress on excellence is concerned, a significant innovation is the creation of "stairways to excellence".  This entails teaming initiatives whose objective is to establish and reinforce partnerships between regional research units, countries and leading international counterparts.  This will enable Europe to foster units of embryonic excellence, such as small research groups and highly innovative start ups.  Such stairways to excellence will be able to lever support from the Cohesion Funds and this will contribute significantly to the creation of critical mass from existing seeding grounds. 

c)  Synergies with structural funds.  Parliament also sought to ensure greater complementarity between Horizon 2020 and various European, national and regional financial instruments. In particular, Parliament defended a multi-fund approach and a strengthening of the bridges that link Horizon 2020 and other, available funds and most particularly the structural funds.   As such, the structural funds have a role to play - both upstream and downstream - with regard to the Horizon 2020 objectives. Upstream from Horizon 2020, the structural funds can be used for capacity building (i.e. equipment, human resource development, creation of and source of small grants, contribution to the funding of ERC, Marie Curie or collaborative projects). Downstream from Horizon 2020, the structural funds will help smooth the passage from conception to market (i.e.  the can be used to finance or co-finance the follow up to Horizon 2020 research projects and the valorisation of research results). An approach that actively sought to establish links with smart specialisation as this involved several cross-references to the structural funds was agreed upon. 

As for the road that lies ahead, the different parties involved have reached a final agreement and all that is left now is the task of actually implementing the measures that have been decided on.  This, nevertheless, means that there is a great deal still to be done.  In particular, it is of utmost importance that we maintain the key principle of simplification at the heart of what we aim to achieve over the months and years ahead.   

Indeed, Horizon 2020 should be as simple and as well structured as possible. There is no necessary conflict, in this respect, between the simplification of the operating rules and the rigour with which programmes are managed. Quite the opposite is often the case: effectiveness and efficiency are adversely affected by excessive complexity in the allocation of funds.         

In pursuing the goals that we have set ourselves, it is essential that all the different stakeholders are informed about the new possibilities and opportunities that Horizon 2020 represents.  It is also important that they are kept abreast of different developments.  This initiative represents an ideal opportunity to broaden understanding and awareness of the programme and the advantages that it represents for the scientific community as a whole.  With this in mind, I wish this publication success and longevity.