Summary:

  • The first news item puts the spotlight on the forthcoming MIRRIS final conference which aims to bring together a high-level gathering of stakeholders from the research, innovation and policy communities in the EU13 and from the European institutions to debate the project’s findings and recommendations and take stock of measures to help increase the EU13’s involvement in the European Research Area.
  • The second news item looks at some recent statistics to see how the EU13 are performing in terms of EU research funding acquisition under H2020 compared with FP7.
  • The third news item highlights the relevant points for MIRRIS stakeholders from a study commissioned by the European Parliament concerning progress with its own key priorities for Horizon 2020.

MIRRIS reaches out to its stakeholder communities with a high-level final conference in Brussels on 26 May 2016

As the 3-year MIRRIS project nears completion, the consortium is planning to hold a high-level conference in Brussels on 26 May to showcase the lessons learnt during the extensive 3-year policy dialogue and mutual learning exercise across 13 Member States as well as the specific roadmaps designed for each of the EU13 target countries to help widen their participation in the Research and Innovation programmes funded by the European Commission.
 
The conference, which will have a blended reporting and discussion format, aims to bring together different stakeholders, such as staff of the permanent representations and research liaison offices of the EU13 and representatives of networks and associations dealing with research and innovation based in Brussels, as well as policy officers from different DGs of the European Commission (Research and Innovation, Enterprise and Industry, Regional and Urban Policy and the Joint Research Centre) and the European Parliament.
 
Entitled “Better exploiting European funds for Research and Innovation: the Quest for Excellence by the EU13”, the programme has been designed not only to present the main findings of the project but also to hear first-hand testimonials from EU13 stakeholders of their own good practice for upscaling their country’s involvement in the European Research Area. The programme will also feature a session of pitches by R&I actors who will present their institution’s successful approach to European R&D funding acquisition.  Last but not least, the presentations and discussions will provide the European Commission with useful feedback for future policy actions.
 
The format of the half-day conference, which foresees concise presentations interspersed with question and answer sessions with the speakers, also intends to give the audience ample opportunity to contribute their points of view on the challenges and critical issues raised by MIRRIS and to make suggestions for future actions to help widen the EU13’s participation in EU R&I funding programmes.
 

First trends H2020 vs FP7: winners and losers – a special focus on EU13 countries, by Christian Saublens, EURADA

      

Based on data published on the CORDIS website on 3 December 2015, it is possible to find out how R&D&I performers in EU Member States have or haven’t been (more) successful in participating in H2020 compared with FP7. The chosen methodology is to compare the market share (% of beneficiaries) of each Member State at EU28 level or within the EU13 community for each of the 14 thematic priorities. The 9 main trends observed are:
  • EU13 market share improved by 2 percentage points in early H2020 compared with FP7.
  • The main winners are Slovenia and Spain.
  • The main losers are the UK and France.
  • All EU13 countries have increased their market share or at least maintained it.
  • In the EU13, the main winners are Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus and Latvia.
  • In the EU13, the main losers are Poland, Hungary and Romania.
  • In the EU13, Slovenia and Latvia increased their market share both in the topics relating to Societal Challenges and Industrial Leadership, whilst the Czech Republic lost market shares in both areas. Estonia won market shares in Industrial Leadership and SMEs, but lost some in the Societal Challenges strand.
  • EU13 countries have the highest market share increase in the fields of Science in Society (+8%), Energy (+5.3%) and Health (+4.8%). On the other hand they register losses in the field of SMEs (-2%) and Security (-1%).
  • The leadership stakes are rather stable: in the EU13, the Top 5 are PL, CZ, SI, HU and RO. At the end of FP7 the leadership table was PL, HU, CZ, RO and SI. In the EU15, it is currently UK, DE, ES, FR and IT as against UK, DE, FR, ES and IT at the end of FP7.


 Table 1: Global market share FP7 and H2020
 
 
 

The European Parliament’s key priorities for Horizon 2020: how well are they being implemented?

The European Parliament published a report in February 2016 commissioned by its Committee on Research, Industry and Energy (ITRE) to assess the extent to which the EP’s key priorities for Horizon 2020 are being implemented. The European Parliament takes a close interest in Horizon 2020, tabling some 6 000 amendments during its preparation phase, and in general scrutinizes how the EU implements its research and innovation strategies to support economic growth and create jobs. The objective of the study “Scrutiny of Horizon 2020 focusing on the European Parliament’s priorities” was therefore to analyze how the EP’s priorities have been implemented by the European Commission to date, to identify bottlenecks in the implementation, and to provide policy recommendations, based on the collected information and analysis.

The EP’s priorities for Horizon 2020 can be summarized as follows:

  • Increase the participation of Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Horizon2020, with a dedicated budget for the SME Instrument;
  • Fast Track to Innovation scheme (FTI);
  • Contribution of Horizon 2020 to the European Research Area (ERA) in terms of “researcher careers and researcher mobility”;
  • A guaranteed budget allocation for the ‘Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation’ (SEWP) and the ‘Science with and for Society’ (SwafS) programmes, as well as for e-infrastructure and for achieving EU climate and energy goals;
  • 85 % of the “Energy Challenge” budget earmarked for non-fossil fuel energy research;
  • Transparency and openness of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and European Institute of Technology (EIT);
  • Synergies between Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) and other parts of Horizon 2020;
  • Open access (OA) to scientific publications and research data;
  • Gender balance;
  • Balance between small, medium and large projects;
  • Synergies between Horizon 2020 and Cohesion Policy.


For the purpose of this short article, we have chosen to highlight the progress achieved so far in Horizon 2020 in relation to the key priorities which have most relevance for the MIRRIS project and stakeholders.

Increasing the participation of SMEs in Horizon 2020:  Compared with the situation under FP7, the share of SME participation has increased under Horizon 2020, with the financial contribution target of 20 % of LEIT and Societal Challenges funding going to SMEs having been achieved.  Despite some initial communication problems as to the objectives of the programme, the newly introduced SME Instrument has exceeded expectations, with the result that only 6% of applications are funded and a substantial number of proposals which meet the threshold do not receive EC funding. To combat the disappointment this situation can cause to applicants, the Commission introduced a “Seal of Excellence” in October 2015 for proposals which meet a given threshold, thereby recommending them for funding under ESIF or other national/regional funding programmes. In effect, this has sent regional administrations scurrying to find alternative funding mechanisms, which may or may not give any substance to the EC’s seal of excellence. 

Contribution of Horizon 2020 to the European Research Area, in terms of “research careers and researcher mobility”: the specific actions of Horizon 2020 contributing to this objective are the European Research Council and the Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Actions, the EIT and to some extent the Research Infrastructures.

In terms of geographical coverage, ERC grants are concentrated in a relatively small number of EU regions: only 287 out of 1 462 NUTS 317 regions (less than 20 %) are home to an ERC Host Institution, and only 103 of those have managed to attract 10 or more ERC grantees. In terms of mobility, the ERC also contributes to the ERA’s objectives. In 2014, 10 % of successful ERC applicants became affiliated to a Host Institution in a country other than their country of residence at the time of application. The UK and Germany attract the largest number of foreign grantees. On the other hand, the largest absolute numbers of successful applicants moving out of their country of residence are those of the UK and Germany (more than 60 Principal Investigators in each case).

The ERC provides attractive long-term funding for high risk/high return projects. However, the high competition and low success rate (10-15 %) of the ERC have been criticized. It is also argued that researchers from Eastern Europe have little to no chance of securing an ERC grant. Perversely, ERC grants are increasing inequality among researchers in the ERA by only providing generous funding to a small percentage of researchers. Moreover, for some stakeholders, the grants are so generous that the few ERC grant holders might abandon ‘real’ research and become mini-funding managers (each ERC grantee employs on average six team members).

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) offer attractive career development opportunities in prestigious research teams in Europe, whatever the nationality or scientific domain of the researcher. Organizations from any sector and country can participate in the MSCA. According to the report, the main positive features of the MSCA are: open to all domains of research and innovation from basic research to market take-up and innovation services; entirely bottom-up; participation of non-academic sector is strongly encouraged, especially industry and SMEs; mobility is the key requirement for funding on condition that participants move from one country to another; promotion of attractive working and employment conditions; particular attention to gender balance; EU contribution based on unit costs; calculated on the basis of researcher-months. The mobility supported by the MSCA allows researchers to acquire new skills, improves scientific performance and technology transfer, and contributes to the creation of dynamic networks and the opening of the ERA.

Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation (SEWP): Parliament's negotiators ensured that around EUR 750 million from the Horizon 2020 budget went to SEWP measures to help close the R&I divide in Europe and to unlock excellence in low performing R&I regions (EU Member States and Associated Countries), thereby widening participation in Horizon 2020 and contributing to the ERA.

The actions covered in SEWP require specific geographical eligibility conditions. The actions target low performing countries in terms of research excellence. The Composite indicator of Research Excellence – with a corrective threshold of 70 % of the EU average - was selected to distinguish those countries identified as “low R&I performing” or “Widening” countries. The main actions funded under SEWP are:

  • Teaming: supporting the creation of new (or upgrading existing) Centres of Excellence in low R&I performing countries with internationally leading institutions;
  • Twinning: strengthening a defined field of research in a research organization from a Widening country by linking it with two internationally leading research institutions;
  • ERA Chairs: bringing outstanding researchers to universities and other research organizations to help them attract and maintain high quality human resources and implement structural changes necessary to achieve excellence.

In some parts of Horizon 2020, special attention is given to the participation of and impact on low performing Member States and Associated Countries, e.g. the ‘Valorisation of FP7 Health and HORIZON 2020 SC1 research results’ topic of the 2016-2017 Work Programme. The EP report states that the measures have the potential to address the issues for which they were created. However, the dedicated budget does not seem to be large enough to have a real impact. To spread excellence, it may be necessary to implement further actions. To enhance capacity, structural funds should be used. However, it is not clear for stakeholders how synergies between ESIF and Horizon 2020 could be implemented. For Teaming actions, organizations spend a lot of time preparing proposals for the first stage of these actions. However, the success rate is very low and return on investment is not encouraging.

Synergies between Horizon 2020 and Cohesion Policy: both Horizon 2020 and the cohesion policy seek a more comprehensive alignment with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy. This approach calls for increased synergies between Horizon 2020 and the cohesion policy. Therefore, Horizon 2020 should also develop close interactions with the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), which can specifically help to strengthen local, regional and national research and innovation capabilities, particularly in the context of smart specialization strategies.

There are three kind of possible synergies between Horizon 2020 and ESIF:

  • One project can benefit from both Horizon 2020 and ESIF funds but for different actions of the project in a complementary way;
  • ESIF can be used for upstream capacity building projects which will then allow beneficiaries to apply to Horizon 2020 schemes, with stronger backgrounds and better proposals. The results of Horizon 2020 projects can then be used for downstream, close-to-market projects, funded by ESIF;
  • Funding from alternative sources including ESIF can be used for positively evaluated Horizon 2020 proposals which were not funded, due to insufficient call budgets, e.g. ‘Seal of Excellence’.

The EP’s report concludes by making a number of recommendations with regard to each priority objective. Among the most relevant for the MIRRIS stakeholder community are the following:

  • Increasing the participation rates of SMEs in Horizon 2020 and the SME Instrument:
      • ​Sufficient flexibility should be given to the Member States in the implementation and use of the “Seal of Excellence”.
      • The MSCA should continue funding calls and activities designed to increase the participation rates of non-academic partners, including SMEs.
  • ERA and specific objectives contributing to ERA:
      • ​Synergies with structural funds should be sought to enhance the capacity of institutions from Central and Eastern Europe to train and attract the best researchers.
      • The ERC Working Group should continue its efforts on this issue.
      • The ERC should share experience and best practice with national funding agencies.
      • Information about MSCA opportunities should be provided through thematic events organized by the European Commission, by the Member States, and by the Member State regions.
•    Spreading excellence and widening participation:​

      • ​​​​​​​​​​The number of beneficiaries having participated in other projects funded by Horizon 2020 after benefiting from SEWP measures should be monitored.
      • Some specific information days on how to implement synergies between Horizon 2020 and the structural funds should be organized. These could be organized by the European Commission, in cooperation with Member States participating in SEWP actions, and in particular with SWEP, NCPs and ESIF contact points.

•    Synergies between Horizon 2020 and ESIF:

      • ​​Training sessions for NCPs and ESIF contact points should be organized by the relevant EC Directorates General. Beneficiaries could thereby receive appropriate information on how to combine Horizon 2020 and ESIF funding for their projects and achieve the desired synergies.