EU research needs more funding

With Horizon 2020 becoming a victim of its own success, EU research needs more funding, writes Lieve Wierinck.

Lieve Wierinck | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Lieve Wierinck

23 Feb 2018

In its Horizon 2020 programme, the Commission acknowledges that more than €60bn would have been needed to fund all the proposals evaluated as high quality; instead, only one in four proposals could be funded under the current framework programme. 

As stated in the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 and in the report drafted by Pascal Lamy, I underline the need for at least €120bn of funding to invest in research and innovation projects under the ninth framework programme (FP9). 

I share the Commission’s concern that oversubscription is generating high costs in terms of time and effort for applicants. More disturbing is the fact that solid, promising projects are being discarded, when they are pivotal for creating growth and welfare in Europe.


However, the EU is not to blame. Figures from 2015 show that member states only invested 2.03 per cent of their GDP in R&D, when the actual target for Horizon 2020 is three per cent. If member states had achieved their target, it would have brought an additional €100bn each year for research and innovation in Europe.

Synergies between different funds should also be encouraged in the next framework programme. On the condition that the administrative burden is low, earmarking parts of the underused European structural and investment funds (ESIF) is essential to fostering R&D activities throughout the EU. 

Therefore, I want to express my support for increasing the budget for the spreading excellence and widening participation (SEWP) policy for Horizon 2020’s final two years. Raising participation of low-performing countries within FP9 remains a challenge, but I believe this issue is now acknowledged as one of the key priorities by all three European institutions.

It’s important for all member states to benefit and feel an economic and social impact from the framework programme, but we should give equal attention to both research and innovation projects. 

As one cannot live without the other, several investment models are needed to fund different kinds of projects. Grants and loans can be seen as so-called ‘push’ models for lower technology readiness levels. Innovative projects that want to bring their product to the market need a ‘pull’ incentive, such as a market entry reward or a lump sum. 

Moreover, smaller projects and SMEs deserve special attention. In the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 it was highlighted that bigger projects tend to be more successful in securing funding. Indirectly, I see the risk of creating an inner circle of project managers that know the drill of the application model. 

Setting the goals of the ninth framework programme requires a long-term vision. The essential evaluation criteria must remain the seal of excellence.

Therefore, sound education systems should be the foundation for establishing future research communities, thereby supporting the implementation of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine). Upon graduation, lifelong learning must remain central.

On another note, resource efficiency is key and the EU should invest where there is the need and an opportunity to create a European added value.

Therefore, we must consider the missions and their intentional impact on European society. The ambition should be big, but also realistic as we cannot have results upon request.

It’s not always possible to predict a project’s impact on society. Each endeavour will deliver a result, but it’s very likely its actual impact will only become visible a few years later. The search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease will continue beyond seven years, and funding for other promising projects should be maintained.

Having an open science model and a collaborative approach towards third countries is self-evident. A holistic approach is needed to tackle the healthcare, social challenges and climate change issues. International collaboration and science diplomacy are important in tackling global issues such as antimicrobial resistance, cancer and global warming.

Establishing a healthy relationship with the UK and others in FP9 remains key for exchanging knowledge and know-how. Brexit has made the situation unclear and the same goes for the start of the negotiations on FP9, which can only begin once an agreement has been reached on the new multiannual financial framework.


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