New horizons for European investment

Europe must recognise the excellent work of its researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs, now and in the future, writes Mariya Gabriel.

 Photo credit: European Commission Audiovisual

By Mariya Gabriel

10 Apr 2020


Research and innovation play a key role in addressing the main concerns of citizens. There is no better example of this than the current Coronavirus outbreak, where we have seen an enormous mobilisation of resources to tackle it.

My priority is to ensure that we have an effective, efficient and inclusive research and innovation landscape that enables us to address the challenges of our time through our policies and through Horizon Europe, our new research and innovation programme.

In Horizon 2020, we have a flexible instrument that has enabled us to react quickly to unforeseen challenges.


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In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, we managed to liberate €47.5m of emergency funding from Horizon 2020 to support 17 research projects, involving 136 teams from across the EU, to work on rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests, new treatments and vaccines.

One of the shortlisted projects is the Rapid European COVID- 19 Emergency Research response (RECOVER) project.

A consortium led by the University of Antwerp will address urgent questions of patient and public health, study the impact of transmission interventions and provide us with direct recommendations on how to protect the health of those at the frontline.

Another project, the European Virus Archive (EVA), is helping to distribute Coronavirus research material and develop a molecular diagnostic test that is now available worldwide.

In this context, we must stress the importance of supercomputers. For example, the Exscalate4CoV project is leveraging the power of supercomputing centres across Europe to simulate millions of molecular interactions and identify treatments for the Coronavirus.

“Women are still underrepresented in disciplines such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics and only make up 15 percent of top academic positions in Europe. This is unacceptable”

In addition, up to €45 million of Horizon 2020 funding, matched by a similar amount from private partners, will go into Coronavirus research via the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private partnership.

All this work builds on our investment into the development of treatments, clinical preparedness and epidemic response over recent years.

For example, in 2015, we funded the PREPARE project, which established a platform for European preparedness facilitating clinical research into the numerous uncertainties created by a new disease.

It is also important to note that we work in all possible fields and support innovative companies of all sizes. From our recent EIC Accelerator call alone, we received almost 900 proposals for measures directly related to the Coronavirus outbreak.

We also provide support, together with the European Investment Bank, to companies that are making promising progress.

We have given €80 million of financial support to CureVac - an innovative European vaccine developer - to scale up development and production of a vaccine.

Beyond the Coronavirus outbreak, our work underpins the political priorities of the Commission. Let’s start with climate change. In order to be climate neutral by 2050, we will need to decarbonise at least six times faster than anything achieved globally to date.

That is why we propose dedicating over 35 percent of Horizon Europe funding to climate-relevant activities. Another important priority will be the strengthening of the European Research Area.

Its main initiatives include facilitating knowledge circulation, reducing the research and innovation divide between EU Member States and improving working conditions for researchers.

Only recently, we awarded a contract for setting up an open access publishing platform for scientific articles, freely available to everyone participating in European research programmes. I am also determined to pursue gender equality in research and innovation.

Women are still underrepresented in STEM disciplines and make up only 15 percent of top academic positions in Europe.

This is unacceptable. Last, we need to invest in a European Innovation Council (EIC) that supports high-risk, high-impact ideas, turning science into new business and accelerating the scale-up of ’game-changing’ innovators.

I am very enthusiastic about the results of the first pilot, where one of the projects, Symptoma, is developing a chatbot that will enable mass screening of citizens at risk of carrying the Coronavirus. Earlier this month, we selected 100 game-changing ideas from across Europe to receive a total of €344m of EIC funding.

With research and innovation investments driving two-thirds of economic growth in the EU, there is a clear need to support our researchers and innovators as best as we can, providing them with the funds, tools and infrastructures they need.

All of this means that we need an ambitious long-term agenda for research and innovation. Horizon Europe embodies our ambition to meet that demand.

The new mission-based approach ensures we focus on the most pressing societal issues and engage policymakers, researchers and citizens in defining and implementing our future research and innovation agenda. To do this, we need an equally ambitious budget.

Europe is producing one-third of the world’s best science with only seven percent of the world’s population. These impressive results do not stand by themselves.

In recent years, Horizon 2020 has funded more than 27,800 grants to the tune of €51.7bn, of which almost €8.6bn went to SMEs. Meanwhile, one in five European researchers received EU support.

My request to all EU Member States is to work together to realise even more impressive results in the coming years. We can count ourselves incredibly lucky to have such a wealth of world-class researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Let us make sure that we support and recognise their excellent and indispensable work, now and in the future.

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