Saturday

25th May 2019

Focus

Sighs of relief as new EU innovation fund replaces the old

  • Research for the sake of it is a charge often laid at European doors (Photo: European Commission)

Industry leaders, academics and MEPs have all warmly welcomed a recent proposal for a new, seven-year EU fund for research and innovation - if only because it is nothing like its predecessor.

“The change is clear. The structure, the focus. It is all absolutely different,” says Spanish centre-left MEP Teresa Riera Madurell, overseeing a part of the no less than six related legislative proposals currently making their way through parliament.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“It is a very good proposal for the time we live in," she adds.

EU research funding has never been easy. It is famously slow and complex, to the extent that for many companies and scientists, the potential gains do not outweigh the costs of applying.

“The issue of simplification [...] dates back to almost the very beginning of the EU’s research funding activities,” writes German centre-right MEP Christian Ehler, one of the other five deputies dealing with the issue.

MEPs over the years have repeatedly called for change - “a radical overhaul” in a 2010 resolution, or “a quantum leap” in the words of Ehler.

Sighs of relief, then, must have gone through the boardrooms and laboratoriums of Europe when in late last November the European Commission proposed “a new vision for research and innovation” with “radically simplified rules and procedures”.

The package - dubbed Horizon 2020 - proposes an €80bn R&D fund for 2014-2020, up from €55bn for the last seven years. If unchanged, it will be the largest in the world - ever.

Its main virtue is that it groups the plethora of current EU research and innovation activities under one single set of rules. One goal is to reduce the time between an application filed and money received.

“Today, the time to grant is around two years, which is almost prohibitive. In a world that is changing fast, speed is key,” says Jurgen Leohold, research director at Volkswagen.

The fund further aims to connect the continent’s lab rats with salespeople - the EU has often been accused of doing research for the sake of doing research - and pays particular attention to ideas that may help tackle what it calls the “grand societal challenges” - things like climate change and an ageing population.

All in favour

Industry leaders have all but embraced the new proposal.

“We strongly support Horizon 2020,” says Hugues-Arnaud Mayer, innovation chief at French employers’ union Medef. Not in the least, he says, because it embodies “a great new spirit of more public/private cooperation”.

Not enough, though, for Andreas Barner, chairman of German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim and innovation chief at BDI, a federation of German industries.

“Horizon 2020 clearly goes in the right direction,” he says. But he would have liked to see “more advances in further research with academia”. With regard to simplification, he says, the proposal is “very remarkable, an important step”.

ThyssenKrupp’s innovation chief Reinhold Achatz agrees but is not surprised at the content of the proposal. “Our input has been much emphasised,” he says.

He says that even though the simplification looks good on paper, it still needs to be implemented. “There needs to be a culture change," he says, "also in the EU institutions.”

For their part, European universities have joined the industry in praising the proposal.

“I am fairly positive,” says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the European League of Research Universities. He is especially taken by the aim to allocate funds on the basis of excellence. “We are in favour,” he says.

Battle for budget

But for now, the proposal is just a proposal and will still have to survive the EU law-making machinery.

Both EU member states and parliament will have to come to an agreement on a big part of the package - something which is likely to come down to a battle for money as negotiations heat up on the EU’s overall budget for 2014-2020.

National governments, tied to austerity at home, are keen also to cut EU spending and may see R&D, the bloc’s biggest budget post after agriculture and cohesion policy, as an easy target.

MEPs, on the other hand, remarkably united across the political spectrum, are calling for an even higher R&D budget than proposed.

“€80bn is not enough,” says Riera Madurell. “Everybody [in the research committee] agrees.”

She says that even though at first glance it looks like a considerable increase - up from €55bn - it should be taken into account that the new fund merges several into one.

“We know that it will be difficult,” she says. “We will have some strong discussions with the council.”

EU innovation efforts unknown

The efforts of the EU to turn the old continent into an “innovation union” are largely unknown to business leaders, according to a survey by global accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Innovation

As the EU continues to struggle with the effects of the economic crisis, the importance of investing in innovation and research is increasingly been emphasized. But how much money is enough and where should it be spent? EUobserver investigates.

The Acta debate - will innovation be stifled?

Opponents of Acta, the controversial anti-counterfeiting treaty up for vote in the European Parliament in July, say, among other things, that it would stifle innovation. Advocates say the exact opposite.

EU scientists 'suppliers for the economy'

Ties between science and business in Europe have always been weak. But that is changing - to the chagrin of some. The case of a Belgian scientist who participated in an anti-gmo protest is likely to fuel the debate.

News in Brief

  1. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  2. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  3. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  4. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  5. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  6. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  7. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  8. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  2. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK
  3. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  4. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  5. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?
  6. Italy train row exposes competing views of EU
  7. Dutch socialists on top in first EP election exit poll
  8. No usage data kept for EU parliament's 'Citizens' App'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us