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EU research program to boost innovation

Eugene Eteris, BC, Copenhagen, 21.10.2013.Print version
In the new EU program to support science and research – Horizon 2020 – there are over € 70 bln of funding in the coming sever years for the EU states in their efforts to assist both researchers and entrepreneurs in creating innovative products and services.

Current EU’s 7th Framework Programme for research is over at the end of 2013; since the start of 2014, the Horizon 2020 will start functioning with a budget of more than €70 billion over seven years. More money will be available for testing, prototyping, demonstration and pilot type activities, for business-driven R&D, for promoting entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and for shaping demand for innovative products and services. In short, Horizon 2020 helps the business sector to reap the full commercial rewards from in-house innovation.


The project’s idea is to increase both social and technical aspects of member states’ development, i.e. combine socio-economic science and humanities across the whole programme.


The Horizon 2020 is the only major programme in the EU’s new budget that sees an increase in resources.


At the official launch of Horizon 2020 in the Czech Republic (Prague, 18 October 2013), Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science in her speech in Prague underlined major aspects in the new European R&D program called Horizon 2020. She argued that exciting opportunities offered by the new programme would deliver progress to national development.

Horizon 2020 program

With a budget of more than €70 billion over seven years, it is the only major programme in the EU’s new budget that sees an increase in resources. Horizon 2020’s substantial budget is a result of the EU and member states’ public consultation during over two years with their intentions to streamline European science and innovation.


Additional money, which represents a 25 per cent increase in real terms compared to FP7, will be invested by the member states wisely and efficiently. Horizon program will fund the best fundamental and applied research aimed at innovations and bringing in small and large companies. This aim is vital because for Europe it is the research and innovation that generally mean growth and jobs. Better value for this public money also means undertaking radical reform in the EU-28 for research and innovation financed at EU level.

Simplification and coherence in the Horizon program

These two words are the key to success, underlined the Commissioner; first, simplification. From 2010, it has been a top priority to make it easier for the EU scientists and business people to access EU funding. Unnecessary red tape meant they spent too much time on administration – time that could be better spent on research and innovation. Hence, the simplification applies across the whole Horizon’s programme.


While the current generation of programmes have lots of different rules, Horizon 2020 applies the same rules everywhere. That means it is now much easier to apply and participate in projects.

The reimbursement of project costs will be much simpler with a single reimbursement rate for most projects, which means less paperwork and fewer audits.


Under Horizon 2020, the time between sending an application and receiving a grant will be much quicker. This means great projects will be able to get up and running many months earlier than under the current system.


Thus, the EU has reformed the administration of Horizon; besides the EU has also reformed the overall design of the programme so that its approach is much more coherent.


Horizon 2020 is designed from top-down and bottom-up to be coherent. By bringing together all the EU-level funding for research and innovation under one roof, the EU can support innovation in a seamless and joined-up fashion, at every step of the journey from excellent fundamental research all the way to innovative products, services and processes that will conquer world markets.


One of the biggest changes is Horizon 2020 program is challenge-based approach. This is because the challenges facing Europe – whether food and energy security, clean transport, public health or security – cannot be solved by a single field of science or technology, let alone a single sector, or a single organisation.


That is where 'European added value' makes the crucial difference: making a bigger impact and getting better results from taxpayers' money by helping the best researchers work together irrespective of borders.


These complex challenges will need solutions that draw upon many different areas of research and innovation. Hence, the interdisciplinarity has become a crucial aspect of Horizon 2020; the program will encourage researchers to get out of their silos, and that broader societal aspects are addressed by embedding the Socio-Economic Science and Humanities across the whole programme.


The program will be less prescriptive about what projects need to do: this will allow researchers and innovators to come up with the bright ideas to address the challenges. However, the Commission will be more demanding about the impacts that projects must have, and this will be one of the key criteria for selecting which proposals get funding.


The Commission is counting on Europe’s scientists to produce excellent research that will underpin both the search for solutions to societal challenges and the EU’s quest for innovation.

Horizon 2020 champions excellent science, with increased funding for the European Research Council and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions on researcher training, mobility and careers.

However, Horizon 2020 is going to be good for business: more companies would participate in European research and innovation projects.


Simplification will help connecting Horizon 2020 to businesses, as will the guiding initiative to support the “lab-to market” process, which will offer private companies greater scope to get involved in close-to-market actions. More money will be available for testing, prototyping, demonstration and pilot type activities, for business-driven R&D, for promoting entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and for shaping demand for innovative products and services. In short, Horizon 2020 helps the business sector to reap the full commercial rewards from in-house innovation.

Greater industry and SMEs involvement

The programme will promote even greater industry involvement and leverage of investment, including dedicated support for ICT, nanotechnology, materials and production technology, more public-private partnerships, and reinforced support for demand-driven innovation like innovation procurement.


The Commission expects five public-private partnerships (PPP) to deal with so-called “innovative medicines”: fuel cells and hydrogen; aeronautics; bio-based industries; and electronics. They are expected to mobilise up to around €22 billion of investments, with €8 billion coming from the EU; these PPP offer huge opportunities for companies and researchers across Europe, including SMEs.


However, the program is not just focusing on the biggest players: research and innovation for SMEs are promoted across Horizon 2020 as a whole. But the EU will also introduce a new instrument adapted to their specific needs. This will allow single SMEs to receive small, simple grants for highly innovative projects.


It is about new financing options for SMEs in the form of risk-sharing (through guarantees) or risk finance (through loans and equity) to support research-driven and innovative companies.

“The opportunities are there, but make no mistake, argued the Commissioner; competition for Horizon 2020 funding will be fierce, especially since there is still such pressure on national research budgets”.


One of the goals for Horizon 2020 is a wider participation: i.e. that all countries and regions can build the level of excellence that will be needed to be successful in the Programme. Thus the program is elaborated together with Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy, to make sure that new Structural and Investment Funds will work hand in hand with Horizon 2020 to build excellence.


Under the new Cohesion policy, each EU state and region should develop smart specialisation strategies that build on their respective strengths: it means that they will be betting on their most likely winners. In fact, such a strategy will be a precondition to research and innovation funding from the European Structural and Investment Funds.


Excellent scientists need excellent facilities: upgrading research infrastructure and equipment will come within the scope of EU Cohesion Policy.

This means everything from laboratories and equipment to supercomputers and high-speed data networks (here, the EU-funded ELI facility in Prague and the Central European Institute of Technology-CEITEC in Brno are perfect examples).


Horizon 2020 will also introduce a dedicated set of measures to spread excellence and complement the Structural and Investment Funds.


Since Horizon 2020 aims to fund the very best research and innovation, it will of course continue to allocate funding on a competitive basis – promoting excellent standards demands as much.

But Horizon 2020 contains a number of new measures to ensure that the programme is open to a wide range of participants, from all the EU states and from all the regions in order to bridge Europe's innovation divide.


Most research and innovation indicators, whether it is the Innovation Scoreboard, Government expenditure on Research (GERD) or, for instance, participation in the ERC, clearly show that some countries, mainly in central, eastern and southern Europe are not yet fully exploiting their research and innovation potential.


By its very definition, not every university or research institute can be the very best in its field. Excellence cannot be everywhere but excellence can spring up anywhere; the new twinning and teaming actions as well as the ERA chairs will strengthen the scientific excellence and innovation capacities of emerging institutions.

Factors for success

Greater success in Horizon 2020 relies on a number of factors: it is evident that the EU needs to invest in research and innovation, to reform and improve national systems and transform European industries and economies to create the growth and jobs desperately needed in Europe. This is what the EU Research Area and its Innovation Union policy are all about.


The EU needs to reform national systems because it is here that the vast bulk of research and innovation money is still invested. This money needs to be spent as efficiently as possible, getting the best possible results for the money. It is no use pouring research money into defunct systems.


Reform is not easy; however, steering a course of simplification in Horizon 2020, the EU encourages the states to take an honest look at the national research and innovation system to identify any room for improvement. It is difficult to simplify and become more efficient, but it is worth the effort. “In the long run, creating an efficient, outward looking and dynamic research and innovation system will ensure that the national economies are based on a solid and long-lasting foundation. We want this for every country in Europe, and Horizon 2020 can provide the spark”.   


She added a notable message to the European academic community: “Find out how to participate, build on your contacts with your peers in the rest of Europe, and don't be afraid to think big, because Horizon 2020 is about big opportunities and big results. Step up to the challenge, find the opportunities and reap the rewards of Horizon 2020!”

Reference: Horizon 2020-a World of Opportunities, European Commission – Speech/13/836; 18 October 2013.


Czech’s impetus into the world of knowledge

As soon as Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science made an overview of the Horizon 2020 program in Prague, it’s obvious that she devoted some attention to the state’s situation in science and research.


In Czech Republic there are strong industrial traditions which date back to the early days of the European industrial revolution when Bohemia and Moravia became economic and industrial powerhouse. Country’s talent for manufacturing is exemplified in fine crystal and Škoda cars, and in quality pilsner beers. This long-standing reputation, together with good people’s knowledge, has attracted many foreign investments and put the national innovation system on a good path.


The country is rich in research opportunities: it has produced some of the best scientists, inventors and innovators, many of whom have made remarkable contributions. People like Josef Ressel, the inventor of the ship propeller, Jaroslav Heyrovský , who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1959, Jan Janský, who was the first to classify blood into four types, or Otto Wichterle who, among many other achievements, produced the first soft contact lenses on home-made equipment.


The Commissioner underlined that country’s scientists continue good knowledge and innovation traditions: Czech applicants are significant players in the current 7th Framework programme for research (FP7) that ends in the start of 2014. Since that time the Horizon 2020 will start functioning. 


Horizon 2020 is a very good fit for the Czech Republic, argued the Commissioner. First, the country has an excellent starting position: its manufacturing skills, linked to proximity to other leading manufacturing centres and the quality of people, has attracted many foreign investors and has put the national innovation system on a good path.


Second, Horizon 2020 promotes innovation and the Czech Republic needs more innovation: the country is classified as a moderate innovator on the Innovation Scoreboard index. It is also a medium to low performer in the European innovation output indicator, ranking 16th out of EU-28; Horizon 2020 is there to help.


Third, Horizon 2020 will help the country to address the urgent need to increase cooperation between research, innovation and industry – a problem shared by some other EU states – and allow Czech innovation to really take-off, as it clearly has the potential to do.


SMEs, in particular knowledge-based SMEs that are active in innovative sectors, need to rely on strong and willing partners in the academic world. Almost everywhere in Europe, this is a prerequisite to the development of innovation activities by domestic firms.


Fourth, Horizon 2020 will fund research and innovation in areas where you have competitive advantages. These include smart specialisation, tackling societal challenges, SME participation, synergies between research, innovation and industry, and a stronger focus on impact and results.


Under FP7, Czech participants have so far drawn more than € 220 million of funding. They have been most successful in the areas of ICT, transport, nanotechnologies and nano-sciences – among the Key Enabling Technologies – and health. These are all areas that will receive increased funding under Horizon 2020, so the Czech Republic has much to gain.


The Commissioner recommended to capitalise on this experience and build on your R&D potential in these areas, while striving to maximise opportunities in new areas of research and innovation.


Given the country’s strength in basic research, the Czech Republic has all facilities to increase its participation in the European Research Council, she added.


The Commissioner particularly mentioned prof. Antonín Holý’s achievemnets, perhaps the most eminent Czech scientist of recent years, who died in July 2012: so many aspects of his career epitomise what the EU is trying to achieve with Horizon 2020. “Because excellence was certainly his trademark: that is something that Horizon 2020 aims for”, she added.


The scientist conducted pioneering blue-sky research in chemistry and was responsible for many patents. His research led to practical innovations, including in the treatment of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, helping to tackle the major societal challenge of public health.


A.Holy's research also had an economic impact since he was very successful in bringing his research to market. But as happens all too often with excellent European research, one of his biggest successes, the HIV prevention drug Truvada, is marketed by an American company.


A. Holy also collaborated internationally on research, including with the virologist Erik De Clercq from the Catholic University in Leuven on Viread, an ingredient of Truvada.


He was rightly honoured by the EU during his lifetime: he was awarded the Descartes Prize in 2001 and was chosen as one of the Ambassadors for the European Year of Creativity and Innovation in 2009. His legacy will certainly live on and he will serve as inspiration for many more in Czech Republic and Europe.

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