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Reducing Red Tape for Research in Europe

2012-07-17 - Science

In 2010, thousands of European researchers signed a petition-the "Trust Researchers" Declaration-calling for less bureaucracy in the funding system (1). They argued that they spent too much time on proposal writing, project management, evaluation, reporting, and audits, and therefore not enough time in labs or in the field. 

We in the European Commission and the European Parliament are listening. Our research programmes should not be designed for accountants and bureaucrats but for scientists and innovators. We have worked hard to find ways to reduce the administrative burden on Europe's talented researchers, while remaining fully accountable to the taxpayer. We recognize that clear and simple rules, consistently applied, equal good financial control.

For 18 months we talked to a range of stakeholders and research communities about the best way maximize value for our investment in research. These consultations provided valuable input to the new European research and innovation program for the 2013 to 2020 period, named HORIZON 2020, and the financial rules under which it operates.  We have already simplified the current research funding program. There is now greater flexibility in how personnel costs are calculated, based on the grant-holders' usual accounting rules. Small and medium enterprise owners are now entitled to receive a flat-rate reimbursement for their work in the event that they do not receive a formal salary.

Horizon 2020 brings together all previous EU research and innovation funding instruments under a single program, providing funding for everything from basic research to demonstration and market uptake. The simplified program architecture streamlines access to funds and standardizes rules and criteria for proposal evaluations, intellectual property rights, and eligibility of costs.

In Horizon 2020, the current complex matrix of reimbursement categories will be replaced by a single reimbursement rate per project and a single flat rate for overheads. There will be fewer requirements for timesheets to justify personnel costs. Horizon 2020 will also allow scope for experimenting with alternatives to cost reimbursement. A results-based approach with lump sums for whole projects or the use of inducement prizes would remove the administrative effort for reporting costs incurred. However, such approaches require adequate mechanisms for establishing lump sum payments and for defining measurable deliverables against which the lump sum or the prize would be paid. Project audits in Horizon 2020 will focus on fraud detection and prevention, rather than detecting and correcting errors as in the past. We hope this shift will lead to a reduction in the audit burden for participants.

The new approach will reduce the time and cost in making applications and reduce the cost to the European Commission of managing the schemes. We aim to cut the time from submission of proposals to signature of the grant agreement by about one-third. This will allow projects to get off the ground much more quickly. It also means that the European taxpayer will be getting more output from their investments as scientists' time is freed up for the real work.

Maria da Graça Carvalho1* and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn2

1European Parliament of the European Union and Rapporteur (Committee Spokesperson) for the Specific Programme of Horizon 2020, B-1047 Brussels, Belgium

2European Commission in Brussels responsible for Research, Innovation, and Science, B-1047 Brussels, Belgium

Reference

1. Trust Researchers: A Declaration to the Attention of the

European Council of Ministers and the Parliament (www.trust-researchers.eu).