The European Union’s three governing institutions — the European parliament, council and commission — reached agreement in the small hours of 20 March on the outline of the EU’s next seven-year research-funding programme, Horizon Europe.
Like its predecessor, Horizon 2020, the new programme will fund collaborations between academia and industry, and prestigious discovery science. But the agreement also includes some fresh ideas, including a greater focus on innovation and initiatives to help poorer nations compete for funds.
One big element that is yet to be decided is the budget for Horizon Europe — due to launch in 2021 — which has been proposed at around €100 billion (US$114 billion) and is expected to be the largest EU research programme yet.
“Europe wants to go big on research,” says Christian Ehler, a Member of the European Parliament from Germany and one of the rapporteurs for Horizon Europe.
The agreement marks the end of a series of tough negotiations between the three EU bodies. Talks began in January to resolve sticking points in the commission’s original proposal, which was published last June. The framework’s structure must please both the parliament and the EU’s individual member states.
The agreement’s details show that at least half of Horizon Europe’s money will be spent on collaborative programmes, in which academic scientists, research institutes and industry work together.
These will include heavily financed ‘mission’ projects that target specific societal problems, akin to the billion-euro flagship schemes in the current EU research programme, Horizon 2020, that focus on the brain, graphene and quantum technologies. The topics of Horizon Europe’s missions are yet to be decided.
Most of the rest of the money will go to familiar, prestigious programmes for discovery science, such as the European Research Council and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions scheme — which trains young scientists and promotes international mobility — as well as to programmes to support innovation.
Innovation, innovation, innovation
Horizon Europe has a greater focus than its predecessor on innovation: a pumped-up European Innovation Council will invest in small and medium-sized technology companies, and provide competitive grants and other forms of support. The council will work alongside the established European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which supports large communities of scientists in industry and academia to develop innovative products or services.
New elements in Horizon Europe include programmes aimed at supporting collaboration between museums in EU nations; a fast-track application procedure to develop innovative ideas proposed by the scientific community; and special initiatives to help former-communist countries to compete for research funds.
The agreement must still be formally approved by the full European Parliament and the council. As well as the budget, it leaves open a key but sensitive decision — the rules under which non-EU member states will be able to participate.
The three EU institutions want much of Horizon Europe, and particularly the parts relating to global societal challenges, to be open to scientists around the globe. But how this will be organized depends on final budget agreements. The European Commission originally proposed a budget of €94.1 billion, a 22% increase on Horizon 2020’s funds, but the parliament has called for €120 billion.
The EU institutions will consider these aspects again after the European Parliament elections in May, but are unlikely to reach a decision before the end of the year.