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Europe to tackle society’s challenges with biggest-ever research programme

Horizon 2020 will support early-stage research in Europe. © Inserm
Horizon 2020 will support early-stage research in Europe. © Inserm

Europe is poised to launch its biggest-ever research and innovation funding package in order to take on some of society's biggest challenges such as the need for green transport and clean energy, while at the same time creating jobs.

The new funding package, called Horizon 2020, cleared a major hurdle on 21 November 2013 when the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give it the go-ahead. EU Member States are expected to follow suit in the coming days. If everything goes according to plan, the first calls for research proposals will then be issued on 11 December 2013.

‘This is a vote of confidence in competitiveness and jobs in Europe. It’s a strong vote for a knowledge economy,’ said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. ‘It gives us the opportunity to support researchers, scientists, educational institutions and companies, both large and small. Now we need to get on and do it.’

The idea is to focus on the big challenges faced by Europeans, bringing together different fields of science and technology to deal with things like ageing populations, food security, the need for cleaner transport, and the search for low-cost sustainable energy to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

‘This is a vote of confidence in competitiveness and jobs in Europe.’

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

‘These complex challenges will need solutions that draw upon many different areas of research and innovation,’ Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said.

Taking into account the effects of inflation, Horizon 2020 is worth nearly EUR 80 billion. It is the only major programme in the EU’s budget for the next seven years whose resources will increase, and in real terms it’s nearly 30 % bigger than the previous research funding round, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

That’s because Europe is pinning many of its hopes for economic recovery on research and innovation. By 2020, the EU hopes to be able to provide jobs for three in every four 20 to 64 year-olds, and many of those will come from high-tech industries and new technology.

Funding every stage of development

The idea is to bring all of the different ways that the EU funds research, from grants for individual scientists to co-financing of large-scale research projects, under the umbrella of Horizon 2020. That means the programme can help fund new technologies at every stage of the innovation process, from early-stage research all the way to developing products that can be sold.

‘It could be a European Research Council (ERC) grant that enables a top scientist to stay in Europe to pursue her risky but promising research,’ Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said. ‘It could be support to industry to maintain Europe’s lead in a key technology like biotechnology. It can be a wide-scale collaborative effort tackling a societal challenge like climate change.’

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, second from left, listening to a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania, during a two-day visit to Romania.Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, second from left, listening to a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania, during a two-day visit to Romania.

Horizon 2020 includes enhanced support for blue-sky research in Europe, such as that done by Professor Henry Markram, who is using supercomputers to reconstruct a human brain as part of the the Human Brain Project, or Professor Christian Keysers who is trying to understand empathy.

Around EUR 8 billion from Horizon 2020 will be combined with contributions from industry to generate about EUR 22 billion for the development of things like new drugs and cleaner transport as part of five planned partnerships between the EU and industry. The partnerships will deal with innovative medicines, fuel cells and hydrogen, aeronautics, bio-based industries, and electronics

Companies with less than 250 members of staff employ two thirds of all private sector workers in Europe, and so-called small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are central to economic growth in Europe. Horizon 2020 includes nearly EUR 9 billion support for SMEs, such as helping them get finance and facilitating collaborative projects, and a dedicated SME Instrument for feasibility studies and demonstration projects.

‘We’re putting the spotlight on innovative SMEs that want to both develop nationally and spread their wings internationally,’ said Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn.

Horizon 2020 – where will the money be spent?

The biggest part of Horizon 2020 focuses on the challenges that society faces, bringing together different fields of research to take on things like the need for cleaner transport and greener energy. The programme also supports fundamental research, and helps industry to come up with new technology that will stimulate jobs and growth in Europe.

Here is a breakdown of where the money is being spent:

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