Horizon Europe is the name of the EU’s new programme for research and innovation, and it runs from 2021 to 2027. The programme has a budget of 95 billion EUR, and a design similar to its predecessor, Horizon 2020, with three tracks (pillars). The first track is for investments in scientific excellence, the second track is for global challenges, and the third track focuses on innovations.
“It is a continuation of Horizon 2020, so much is recognisable,” says Sven Stafström, Director General of the Swedish Research Council.
The first pillar, which focuses on supporting ideas of scientific leading edge excellence, includes the European Research Council (ERC) as before. It also includes support to research infrastructure and what is known as ‘mobility support’ (Marie Skłodowska Curie), which in various ways shall contribute to researchers being more mobile between countries. Common features for all is that it is researchers who apply for project funding, and that the focus is on scientific excellence.
More than half of the budget goes to the second pillar, where support is instead distributed for an expressed purpose. The focus here is on addressing global challenges. The pillar covers six clusters, in approximately the same way as the societal challenges in the previous programme.
It also has ‘missions’, or assignments, where broad goals are to be achieved through cross-disciplinary collaboration, involving not just researchers and businesses, but also actors such as civil society or the public sector.
“The idea is interesting. You set a clear goal and gather together the competences needed to work towards that goal. But then it is not yet quite clear how it is to be implemented, or what it will lead to,” says Sven Stafström.
The third pillar supports innovations. A new feature is the European Innovation Council (EIC), which will be funding projects at various stages, based on proposals from researchers and businesses. It also covers an institute focusing on funding product development.
“It is important that the best apply”
There is also a fourth, over-riding part, which is intended to stimulate European collaboration. The purpose is to achieve more equal research and innovation in Europe.
In Sweden, the Swedish Research Council and Vinnova are responsible for informing potential Swedish participants about the various programme parts. The research funding bodies also have experts on programme committees directing the framework programme.
“It is now up to researchers in academia and industry to apply. People might feel that there is a lot of work involved in applying and forming teams, but it is important that the best apply. The Swedish Research Council and Vinnova have an important role to play in informing about calls at universities and in industry.”
More funding for Sweden
A summary from Vinnova shows that when two thirds of the funding in the previous framework programme had been contracted, 3.4 per cent of the funding had gone to Sweden.
We have to do better in this framework programme. The Government has therefore developed a national strategy for Swedish participation in the framework programme, which was presented in October.
“An important part of this is that Sweden shall become better at applying for research funding from the EU. We could have done better in our applications to the previous framework programme,” says Sven Stafström.
A proposed strategy has been produced by the Swedish Research Council together with Vinnova, Forte, Formas, the Swedish Energy Agency and the Swedish National Space Agency. Sven Stafström establishes that several parts of the final version are identical to this.
Some features are lacking
At the same time, he thinks that some features are lacking, such as the European Research Area (ERA). This is a vision of a strong research Europe, where researchers, scientific knowledge and technology can move about freely.
“I am missing this perspective in the strategy. Sweden is a strong research nation, and can contribute with initiatives to strengthen European research. In dialogue with other countries, we can influence, in particular in making other countries invest more in research.
He is also missing sections about the partnership programmes, which are funded jointly by the EU and national research funding bodies.
“We highlighted that Sweden could play an important role in such a programme, both as a participant and as a leader. The Swedish Research Council wants to take a leading role in the European collaboration in areas such as antibiotic resistance, and I would have liked to see this supported clearly by the Government, but that was not included,” says Sven Stafström.