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The scale of Horizon 2020 is a vote of confidence for research

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who championed gender equality during her term as research commissioner, says the situation is improving, but too slowly. Image credit: UE
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who championed gender equality during her term as research commissioner, says the situation is improving, but too slowly. Image credit: UE

Member States’ agreement to boost research funding by 30 % shows just how crucial research and innovation are to Europe, according to Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science 2010-2014.

Together with President Barroso, you were the driving force behind Europe’s biggest ever research programme. How hard was it to convince Member States? 

‘The 30 % budget increase for Horizon 2020 is a real vote of confidence in the power of research and innovation. Going into the budget negotiations the signs weren’t good. There were different groups of Member States fighting for agriculture, for Structural Funds, and those wanting to cut the overall EU budget. Research was at risk of becoming a casualty of this battle, but in the end it was one of very few budget areas to see a significant increase. 

‘We had to work very hard to achieve this, and the research and business communities also spoke out loud and clear on the risks to the European economy if research and innovation was cut. The European Parliament also backed the Commission proposals and in the end we saw that Member States realised how important this area is for jobs and growth.’ 

What was the pivotal moment?

‘There were a few moments, but I will never forget a marathon Competitiveness Council meeting in Luxembourg in October 2012, under the Cyprus Presidency. After we had long discussions around the table and in the corridors, Member States agreed on the rules of participation in Horizon 2020, including the radical simplification measures proposed by the Commission. The other key moment for me was the political agreement between the Council and the European Parliament in June 2013 under the Irish Presidency, effectively sealing the deal on Horizon 2020.’ 

‘I think we’ll be able to look back in years to come and see a programme that delivered what it promised.’

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science 2010-2014

Did you achieve everything you set out to do when you started as research commissioner in 2010? 

‘We certainly achieved what we set out to do with Horizon 2020, including a larger budget, radical simplification, more attention to innovation and societal challenges, a focus on SMEs and gender equality. I think we’ll be able to look back in years to come and see a programme that delivered what it promised. 

‘We have also taken a decisive step forward on the European Research Area (ERA). While this is a continuous process we have now created the conditions at European level to make the ERA a reality. What we need now is implementation at Member State level.’ 

You championed the under-representation of women during your time as research commissioner. What still needs to be done in this area? 

‘The situation is improving, albeit much too slowly. Fewer than a third of researchers in the EU are female, despite the fact that women graduates outnumber their male colleagues. The higher up you go, the worse it gets: only 10 % of the rectors of universities are women. That is why we need a push to promote gender equality in research and we’re leading by example in Horizon 2020 and in our work on the ERA.’ 

What advice would you give to your successor Carlos Moedas? 

‘I’ve met Carlos Moedas on a number of occasions now, and was very impressed by his performance at his European Parliament hearing. He has outlined the key issues perfectly: improve the framework conditions for research and innovation in Europe; deliver on Horizon 2020’s promise; and defend the principle of excellence in research. So I don’t think he needs very much advice from me – he has an excellent team supporting him in the European Commission.’