HORIZON 2020 The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation for 2014 to 2020 – a Short Overview

bridges vol. 32, December 2011 / Letter from Brussels

By Manfred Horvat

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Manfred Horvat

On November 30, 2011, the European Commission presented the proposal for the legislative decisions on HORIZON 2020 - The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation for 2014 to 2020. HORIZON 2020 will be the EU financial instrument to implement the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, and the Innovation Union flagship initiative, particularly for the completion of the European Research Area (ERA).

The new program will form a common strategic framework that will encompass all the currently separate EU research and innovation funding schemes - the EU RTD Framework Programme, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology  (EIT) - in one single program. It will provide seamless support from basic and frontier research to innovation and the market.

Objectives, structure and budget

HORIZON 2020 is oriented towards clearly defined objectives:

  • Strengthening the European science base
  • Boosting Europe's industrial leadership and competitiveness
  • Increasing the contribution of research and innovation to solutions for key societal challenges
  • Integrating the knowledge triangle of education, research, and innovation
  • Providing scientific and technical support to EU policies.

The structure of HORIZON 2020 reflects these major objectives. Table 1 provides a general overview of HORIZON 2020, including the indicated financial allocations for the various parts of the program.

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Table 1: Proposed breakdown for HORIZON 2020 (in € million)

   1. The European Research Council
   2. Future and Emerging Technologies (FET)   3,505
   3. Marie Curie actions on skills, training, and career development 
   4. European research infrastructures (including e-infrastructures)   2,802
 II  INDUSTRIAL LEADERSHIP                            20,280
   1. Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies  15,580
 (500 of this is for EIT)
   2. Access to risk finance
   3. Innovation in SMEs
 III  SOCIETAL CHALLENGES                            35,888
   1. Health, demographic change, and well-being   9,077
  (292 of this is for EIT)
   2. Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime
research, and the bio-based economy
  (150 of this is for EIT)
   3. Secure, clean, and efficient energy   6,537
  (210 of this is for EIT)
   4. Smart, green, and integrated transport   7,690
  (247 of this is for EIT)
   5. Climate actions, resource efficiency, and raw materials   3,573
  (115 of this is for EIT)
   6. Inclusive, innovative, and secure societies   4,317
  (138 of this is for EIT)
                1,542 + 1,652*
 JOINT RESEARCH CENTRE (JRC) (NON-NUCLEAR ACTIONS)                              2,212
 TOTAL                            87,740

* To be provided on a pro rata basis from the Societal Challenges and Industrial Leadership objectives subject to the results of a review of the EIT to be carried out not later than 2017.

In accordance with the ambitious objectives of Europe 2020 and the importance of research and innovation, the budget proposed by the Commission presents a substantial increase of almost 50 percent compared to the combined budgets of the present three programs for research and innovation: FP7, CIP, and the EIT. Considering the present financial crisis, this is certainly a remarkable signal underlining the importance given to research and innovation by the Commission. However, it has yet to be seen how far this proposal will be followed in the coming negotiations and decision process involving the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, comprising the science ministers of the 27 EU Member States.

Following frequent requests for more openness and flexibility of EU research and innovation, the Commission proposes a new balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches, with more open areas for applicants choosing the topics of their activities.
The Excellent Science pillar will follow a bottom-up approach and will be totally open to new ideas. The European Research Council (ERC) has the specific objective of reinforcing excellence, dynamism, and creativity of European research. It will enjoy the most significant funding increase of the whole new program, with nearly 80 percent more money compared to FP7. It is interesting to note that HORIZON 2020 will have a strong focus on innovation and, at the same time, increased funding for basic and frontier research. Funding for the mobility, training, and career development actions under the Marie Curie scheme is also substantially increased where, however, some might have expected more. The Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) scheme will foster radically new technologies by exploring novel and high-risk ideas that may lead to major breakthrough innovations. World-class research infrastructures, including e-infrastructures, play a central role in Europe's competitiveness in research and innovation. The aim is to support the development and coordination of, as well as the access to, these research infrastructures. 
The Industrial Leadership pillar will apply a top-down approach, strongly defined and led by industry, and will support the competiveness of European industry and SMEs. The "Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies" part will be structured as follows:

Table 2: Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies

 Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies                                                                  15,580
                                      (500 of this is for EIT)

 Information and Communication Technologies                                                                    7,180
 Key enabling technologies (KETs):                                                                    6,663
 Photonics and micro- & nano-electronics       1,795
 Advanced materials
 Advanced manufacturing and processing   
 Biotechnology          575

In addition, market deficiencies in accessing risk finance for research and innovation will be addressed by providing a facility for debt and a facility for equity, which will be especially relevant for supporting research results to be developed further towards market uptake.
Furthermore, support for innovation in small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) by a dedicated SME instrument will help to stimulate growth, covering their needs over the whole innovation cycle for all types of innovation.  

The Societal Challenges pillar covers the challenges identified in the Europe 2020 strategy and will be top-down and problem oriented. It will be characterized by interdisciplinary cooperation involving generic technologies and sciences but also by interactions with the relevant policy areas at the EU and national levels. Actions at the EU level will ensure that the critical mass of resources and complementary competences assembled to address both pan-European and global challenges. The challenge-oriented approach will attract young people into science and the relevance of these activities will also be clearly understood by the general public.

The objectives of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) are to make the knowledge triangle a reality by integrating education, research, and innovation and to reinforce Europe's innovation capacity especially when addressing societal challenges. The EIT promotes structural change that supports innovation through Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) that are institutionalized partnerships of industry and academia, as well as other innovation actors, working together in regional co-location centers. At present, three KICs are already active: KIC InnoEnergy, KIC ICT labs, and Climate KIC. Each KIC comprises several co-location centers in different regions in Europe. For 2014 and 2018 respectively, three new KICs are planned.
The Joint Research Center (JRC) is the in-house science service of the European Commission, which provides scientific and technical support to EU policy making on everything from environment, agriculture, and fisheries to nanotechnology and nuclear safety.

The activities under HORIZON 2020 will cover the whole spectrum of activities from research to the market, such as R&D projects as well as actions supporting innovation (feasibility studies, pilots, demonstration, test-beds, and support to public procurement and market uptake). Building on the success of the FP7 Risk Sharing Financing Facility (RSFF), new financial instruments beyond grants that will be offered in cooperation with the European Investment Bank (EIB) will play an important role - especially for supporting downstream innovation activities.

Rules for participation and funding

The Commission took a bold step towards proposing substantial simplification of the Rules for Participation and, in doing so, responded to the complaints of the European research community regarding bureaucratic and administrative overload, including excessive financial control and auditing.

Simplification applies especially to the funding rules, while the general conditions for participation remain generally unchanged. The minimum requirement for EU projects is to have at least three independent legal entities established in Member States or Associated Countries, where no two of the three entities may be established in the same country. For the European Research Council, the SME instrument, and program co-fund actions, as well as for support actions and for training and mobility actions, the minimum condition for participation is one legal entity. Additional conditions may be defined in the Work Programs.

Any legal entity established in a Member State or Associated Country, or created under EU law, will be eligible for funding, as will any international European interest organization and any legal entity established in a third country identified in the Work Program. If a third country is not identified in the Work Program, EU funding may still be granted if participation is deemed necessary for the action, or if funding is provided under a bilateral S&T agreement.

Proposal evaluations will be based on the following criteria:

  • Excellence
  • Impact
  • Quality and efficiency of the implementation.

Proposals will be ranked according the results of evaluation by independent experts, and the project selection will follow this ranking.
The simplified funding regime means that there will be one single reimbursement rate of eligible costs will be maximum 100 percent of the total eligible costs. For actions closer to the market (e.g., prototyping, testing, demonstrating, experimental development, piloting, market replication) and for program co-funding actions, the limit will be a maximum of 70 percent of the total eligible costs. For indirect eligible costs, a flat rate of 20 percent of the total direct eligible costs will be applied. Direct eligible personnel costs may be financed on the basis of a scale of unit costs calculated according to the participant's usual cost accounting practices.
The spectrum of funding schemes has been streamlined and includes the following schemes:

  • Research and innovation grants for the full range of research activities and for innovation activities: prototyping and design, dissemination, demonstration, pilots, testing and user involvement, market replication, support for research and innovation infrastructures, standards setting, as well as networking and coordination;
  • Training and mobility grant - for Marie Curie Actions for single beneficiaries, funding bodies, or transnational consortia for training, mobility, and career development of researchers;
  • Program co-fund grant: Funding for bodies managing non-EU R&I programs; networking and coordination between programs, co-funding of individual calls and actions of a transnational nature;
  • Coordination and support grant: Funding for accompanying measures: dissemination, awareness raising & communication, networking, coordination or support services; policy dialogues and mutual learning exercises, and expert support studies;
  • Debt finance and equity investment: Access to risk finance;
  • Prizes: Rewards for past achievements or inducement prizes to be awarded for the achievement of a pre-specified target;
  • Procurement: Support for public pre-commercial procurement and public procurement of innovative solutions.

International cooperation

International cooperation
will be essential in HORIZON 2020, particularly for addressing societal challenges but also in frontier and basic research as well as for enhancing competitiveness of European industry: e.g., by developing worldwide standards and guidelines. Furthermore, promoting researchers and innovation-staff mobility will play a key role in enhancing global cooperation.

The focus of international cooperation in HORIZON 2020 will be on:

  1. Industrial and emerging economies
  2. Enlargement and neighbourhood countries
  3. Developing countries.

General openness will remain a characteristic of the new Framework Programme, while a stronger focus will be on targeted actions following strategic approaches with priorities identified jointly with third countries; these priorities should reflect common interests and mutual benefit, while also encouraging reciprocal access to research funding programs. Where appropriate, cooperation at regional and multilateral levels will be preferred to cooperation with single partner countries. The mechanisms will be implemented for supporting joint calls and the possibility of co-funding programs with third countries or international organizations. Evaluation will be organized through joint evaluation procedures to be agreed upon, which will involve a balanced group of independent experts. To strengthen the European position in the international sphere, coordination and synergies with Member States activities will be promoted.

HORIZON 2020 will be open to the association of acceding countries, candidate countries and potential candidates, and selected third countries that fulfil the following criteria:

  • Good capacity in science, technology, and innovation (STI)
  • Good track record in participation in EU research and innovation programs
  • Close economic and geographical links to the EU
  • Members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) or target countries of the European Neighborhood Policy.

Synergies and complementarity with other EU instruments

Due to the diversity and the different levels of development of EU Member States and regions, synergies and complementarity between the research and innovation activities funded under HORIZON 2020 and under the EU Cohesion Policy Funds (Structural Funds) will be important. HORIZON 2020 will be oriented towards excellence in research and innovation, independent of geographical considerations. Capacity building will be the task of the research and innovation activities under the Structural Funds, where funds will be allocated to specific eligible regions. Both programs - HORIZON 2020 and the Structural Funds - will follow the overall Europe 2020 objectives. Thus, the Cohesion Policy Funds will provide "stairways to excellence" in research and innovation and will also support the development of the European Research Area. In the current programming period, €60 billion from Structural Funds are invested in research and innovation. The proposal is to maintain the future budget at the same level.

Steps towards the start of HORIZON 2020

The time line for preparation of HORIZON 2020 towards its implementation on January 1, 2014, is as follows:

  • From November 30, 2011: Parliament and Council negotiations based on the Commission proposals;
  • Ongoing: Parliament and Council negotiations on EU budget 2014-2020 (including overall budget for Horizon 2020);
  • Mid-2012: Final calls under the 7th Framework Programme to bridge the gap towards Horizon 2020;
  • By the end of 2013: Adoption of legislative acts by Parliament and Council on Horizon 2020;

January 1, 2014: HORIZON 2020 starts; launch of first calls.

HORIZON 2020 will open a new phase of European research cooperation and innovation at a crucial period in the changing global landscape of knowledge production and innovation. HORIZON 2020 will offer excellent opportunities to strengthen the ties between researchers and innovators in the US and in the EU and in Associated Countries for their mutual benefit.

About the author:

Manfred Horvat is professor of “International and European Research and Technology Cooperation” at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien). He is also an independent expert for international research and technology cooperation and acts as senior advisor for Austrian ministries and international organizations, and as an expert for the European Commission.

Further references:

Manfred Horvat: the New Framework for EU Research and Innovation. SCIENCE, Vol. 334, 25 November 2011, pp. 1066-1068.

European Commission. "Europe 2020: A Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth." COM(2010) 2020. Brussels: 3.3.2010.

Natasha Gilbert: European Commission announces €80-billion plan for research. Nature News. 30 November 2011.

Sara Reardon and Daniel Clery: Is €80 Billion on the Horizon For European Research? SCIENCE, Vol. 334, 9 December 2011, pp. 1331-1333.

European Council. "Conclusions." EUCO 13/10. Brussels: 17.6.2010, pp. 2-4.

European Commission. "Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovative Union." COM(2010) 546 final. Brussels: 6.10.2010.

Council of the European Union. "Conclusions on Innovation Union for Europe." Brussels: 26.11.2010.