In the work of addressing major societal challenges the European Commission also wants to engage civil society and citizens.
Horizon Europe

The EU’s bold goals require new ways of working

Svenska 2021-12-14

Climate change, cancer, and polluted seas. These are some of the major societal challenges that the European Commission wants to solve by 2030, with the help of citizens and civil society. The initiative is part of the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation – Horizon Europe.

In the new framework programme, the European Commission wants to engage more than just researchers and companies in the work of addressing major societal challenges. In the initiative focusing on ‘missions’, or tasks, broad sections of society are to be involved.

“The missions are based on a conviction that we cannot organise ourselves in the way we have done so far, if we are to solve societal challenges. We must find new ways of working across borders and sectors, where, in addition to academic researchers and business, the public sector, citizens and civil society are also involved,” says Maria Lindholm at the Swedish Research Council.

She is an expert member of the programme committee within the EU looking after the missions, and is based at Sweden’s research and innovation office in Brussels, which is run jointly by the Swedish Research Council and Vinnova.

Missions to be solved by 2030

So far, five of the missions have been formulated. The EU is to find more cures for cancer, reinstate our seas and waters, make sure soils are healthy, make at least 150 European regions and societies resilient to climate change, and also make 100 cities climate-neutral and smart. All goals have a deadline for being achieved – by 2030.

“These are bold goals. A starting point for the work with missions is that the goals shall be ambitious, but reasonable to achieve.”

The way of working has been compared to the goal set by John F Kennedy, when he said in a speech to the US Congress in 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon, and bring him safely back, before the end of the decade.

So far, the EU has only issued calls for the funding of various preparatory projects. These will lay the foundation for the work starting quickly. Examples of the projects are investigating how the work can be coordinated nationally, identifying needs or supporting public agencies at various levels to prepare ahead of the transition to climate-neutral cities.

Broad-based funding

Organisationally, the missions are part of the pillar in Horizon Europe that provides support for meeting global challenges. A maximum of 10 per cent of the annual budget may be used for these during the first three years. If the missions get a positive evaluation, the proportion may increase thereafter.

“To reach these bold goals, further funding is needed, over and above what is included in the framework programme. The starting point is that this funding will come both from other EU programmes and from national and regional sources. Currently, the only secure funding is from Horizon Europe,” says Maria Lindholm.

The first calls relating to the missions themselves will be issued before the end of the year. They are for subsidiary areas, such as developing screening methods for cancer, or public transport systems for smart cities.

“I think it is interesting and a much-needed change to think in this way. It is easy to agree to the idea, but not so easy to implement. A lot of the detail of how things will work in practice are still unclear, how the missions will be implemented and followed up.”

KTH is already taking part

Jenny Wanselius, group leader at the Research Support Office at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, agrees with this description.

“All five missions are relevant to us in some way, and we are monitoring the development with great interest. Now that the first calls for research and innovation projects within the missions are soon to open, it will also become clearer to us how we can take part,” she says.

In a way, KTH is already taking part in the work. It is hosting “Viable Cities”, which is one of the ‘strategic innovation programmes’ backed by the Swedish Energy Agency, Vinnova and Formas. Municipalities, regions, higher education institutions, small and large businesses and civil society organisations are also taking part in the programme. The goal is to create climate-neutral and sustainable cities.

“It is our mandate. We want more municipalities to become climate-neutral and more sustainable faster. The work is designed in a way similar to that of the European Commission, with many different actors participating. The programme has shared its experiences and is taking part in strategic discussions within the EU’s mission for climate-neutral and smart cities,” says Olga Kordas, associate professor at KTH and head of the programme.

The EU’s goal is for 100 cities in Europe with more than 50 000 inhabitants to become climate-neutral and smart by 2030. All member countries shall be represented. Olga Kordas believes that it is very probable that several of these will be Swedish.

“23 cities that are home to 40 per cent of Sweden’s population are already part of Viable Cities.”

Tools developed by Sweden

Viable Cities started its initiative for climate-neutral cities back in 2018. Since last year, it is part of a consortium preparing for the EU mandate.

“We are responsible for creating one of the central tools – climate contracts for cities at European level.”

Climate contracts are agreements signed between cities and public agencies, where the cities take on responsibility for speeding up the transition to climate neutrality. The public agencies undertake to provide support through regulatory frameworks, coordinated funding, and access to innovations and knowledge.

The contracts have been developed within Viable Cities, and already this December they will be revised and signed by the nine Swedish cities that have been involved almost since the start. A further 14 cities will sign the climate contracts next year.

Processes for involving others

The organisation Vetenskap & Allmänhet promotes dialogue and openness between the general public and the research community.

It is party to several projects that have applied for funding under the early calls within Horizon Europe, and is now waiting to hear whether the applications will be awarded funding. The organisation will also be investigating the opportunities to be part of various constellations for future calls for mandates.

“Our role in this is very much about facilitating collaboration and creating meeting places. We take part as the voice of civil society in two national reference groups for Horizon Europe,” says Maria Hagardt, who is responsible for international relations and communications at Vetenskap & Allmänhet.

The organisation has taken part in several projects in previous framework programmes, often aimed at developing collaboration and at involving and reaching out to society as a whole. It is now hoping for a similar role in this framework programme.

“A lot is said about increasing inclusion of different societal actors, but you must have processes and methods for bringing them in. You must have knowledge about how to do this. We know the processes, and can facilitate and create meeting places for knowledge transfer. Enabling and promoting collaboration is our expertise,” says Maria Hagardt.

Read more in Curie: Sweden to get better at applying for research funding from the EU

Text: Siv Engelmark
Photo: Matt Palmer / Unsplash