Research Framework Programmes are the main instrument at EU level aimed specifically at supporting research and development. They have two major strategic objectives: strengthening Europe’s scientific and technological base and supporting its international competitiveness and the EU policies, through research cooperation among Member States and with international partners.
The 7th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities (EC FP7) will last from 2007 until 2013 and has a total budget of over € 50 billion. The money will (for the most part) be spent on grants to research actors all over Europe and beyond, in order to co-finance research, technological development and demonstration projects. Grants are determined on the basis of calls for proposals and a peer review process, which is highly competitive. Thus, a key characteristic of FP7, and one that differentiates it from the Structural Funds, is that there are no fixed national or regional allocations.
The 7th Euratom Framework Programme for Nuclear Research and Training Activities (Euratom FP7) will last from 2007 until 2011 and has a total budget of € 2.75 billion. There are a number of legal and practical differences between the EC and Euratom FPs, and these will be highlighted where important for the purposes of the present guide. In particular, the Euratom fusion activities are implemented largely using specialised funding schemes and not via calls for proposals.
Both programmes support the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), a Directorate General of the EC that acts as the Commission’s own research laboratory and provides customer-driven scientific and technical support for the conception, development, implementation and monitoring of European Union policies.
In order to complement national research programmes, activities funded from FP7 must have a “European added value”. One key aspect of the European added value is the trans-national nature of many actions: research projects are carried out by consortia which include participants from different EU Member States and third countries or through research fellowships supporting mobility over national borders. Indeed, many research challenges (e.g. major research infrastructures), are so complex that they can only be addressed at European level. However, there are also opportunities for individual teams with no obligation for trans-national cooperation. In this case, the “European added value” lies in raising the competition between scientists in “frontier” research from the national to the European level.
The major building blocks of FP7 are the Specific Programmes: Cooperation, Ideas, People, Capacities and Euratom.
A detailed description of the structure and coverage of FP7 is presented below.
It should be noted that because of their nature, Joint Undertakings and Joint Technology Initiatives may have their own specific participation rules
Cooperation programme – the core of FP7
The core of FP7 and its largest component by far, the Cooperation programme fosters collaborative research across Europe and other partner countries in a number of key thematic areas. These themes are health; food, agriculture and fisheries; biotechnology; information and communications technologies; nano-sciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies; energy; environment (including climate change); transport (including aeronautics); socio-economic sciences and the humanities; space and security.
This programme also includes the new Joint Technology Initiatives Joint Undertakings, which are industry driven, large-scale multi-financed actions, supported by a mix of public and private contributions. Other highlights of this programme include Coordination of non-community research programmes, which aims to bring European, national and regional research programmes closer together (e.g. ERA-NET), and the Risk-sharing Finance Facility (RSFF).
Special attention is also being paid to multi-disciplinary and cross-theme research, including joint calls for proposals between themes.
Ideas programme – and the European Research Council (ERC)
The Ideas programme is the first time an EU Research Framework Programme is funding investigator-driven research at the frontiers of science and technology, independently of thematic priorities. As well as bringing such research closer to the conceptual source, this flagship FP7 programme recognises the value of frontier research to society’s economic and social welfare.
The Ideas programme is uniquely flexible in its approach to EU research, in that proposed research projects are decided solely on the basis of their excellence, as judged by peer review. It is being implemented by the new European Research Council (ERC).
Research may be carried out in any area of science or technology, including engineering, socio-economic sciences and the humanities. Particular emphasis is being placed on emerging and fast-growing fields at the frontiers of knowledge, and on cross-disciplinary research. Unlike the Cooperation programme, there is no obligation for cross-border partnerships.
People programme – boosting European research careers
The People programme provides significant support for international and intersectoral research mobility and career development, both for researchers inside the European Union and externally. It is being implemented via a coherent set of Marie Curie actions, designed to help researchers build their skills and competences throughout their careers in the public and private sector.
The programme includes activities such as initial training of researchers, support for lifelong training and career development, transfer of knowledge and networking via actions including trans-national European fellowships, initial training networks, and industry-academia partnerships. An international dimension with partners outside the EU aims to further develop the careers of EU researchers, by creating international outgoing and incoming fellowships to foster collaboration with research groups outside Europe and by offering a possibility to strengthen research partnerships through staff exchanges. It is being implemented by the Research Executive Agency (REA).
Capacities programme – building the knowledge economy
The Capacities programme is designed to help strengthen and optimise the knowledge capacities that Europe needs if it is to become a thriving knowledge-based economy. By strengthening research abilities, innovation capacity and European competitiveness, the programme is stimulating Europe’s full research potential and knowledge resources.
The programme contains six specific areas i.e: Research Infrastructures, Research for the benefit of SMEs, Regions of Knowledge, Research Potential, Science in Society and International Cooperation activities.
Euratom programme – dedicate to applied nuclear research and training
The Euratom programme, under the research provisions of the Euratom Treaty, supports the development of peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology through fostering collaborative research across Europe. Its main themes are research on fusion energy, including support to ITER, and support for fission-related activities such as research on management of radioactive waste, safety of nuclear installations, advanced reactor technology and radiation protection. The fission and radiation protection activities are implemented in the same way as the EU Cooperation programme, using a selection of the available funding schemes. However, owing to the legally distinct nature of the Euratom Treaty, certain options and opportunities developed entirely under the EU FP may not be accessible, or may require additional legal clarification before becoming accessible, if the research in question is considered to fall predominantly under the scope of the Euratom Treaty. Such issues may be resolved or clarified in future FPs. Differences also exist regarding international cooperation and possible access to Euratom funding by 3rd countries, essentially because the Associated Countries are not the same in the two FPs.
The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) is a Directorate General of the EC that acts as the Commission’s own research laboratory and provides customer-driven scientific and technical support for the conception, development, implementation and monitoring of European Union policies. Its work programme addresses a range of thematic areas: Towards a more competitive and open economy; Development of a low carbon society; Sustainable management of natural resources; Safety of food and consumer products; Nuclear safety and security; Security and crisis management; Reference materials and measurements: by maintaining a strong reference role in the area of standards and reference measurements.
These are the types of projects through which FP7 is implemented and they operate "horizontally" across the Specific Programmes. They include:
Collaborative projects are focused research projects with clearly defined scientific and technological objectives and specific expected results (such as developing new knowledge or technology to improve European competitiveness). They are carried out by consortia made up of participants from different countries, and from industry and academia.
In case the research cooperation is dedicated to a third country, group of countries, or region considered as an ICPC partner, research is implemented through a Specific international cooperation action (SICA).
The Networks of Excellence are designed for research institutions willing to combine and functionally integrate a substantial part of their activities and capacities in a given field, in order to create a European "virtual research centre" in this field. This is achieved through a "Joint Programme of Activities" based on the integrated and complementary use of resources from entire research units, departments, laboratories or large teams.
These are actions that cover not the research itself, but the coordination and networking of projects, programmes and policies. This includes, for example:
Projects carried out by individual national or multinational research teams, led by a "principal investigator", funded by the European Research Council (ERC).
Training and career development for researchers from across the European Union and its research partners, through a range of support actions named after Marie Curie (People Programme: Marie Curie Actions).
Research and technological development projects where the bulk of the research is carried out by actors such as universities, research centres or other legal entities, for the benefit of specific groups, in particular SMEs, or for civil society organisations and their networks.
The JRC purchases support for its own scientific work programme in a range of thematic areas. To obtain this support the JRC issues Calls for Tender for service or supply procurement contracts. The JRC Calls for Tender are published regularly and as required. The latest status can be checked on the JRC Internet site at http://web.jrc.ec.europa.eu/callsfortender/.
Under the ERA-NETs scheme, calls are organised and the specific conditions for participation in a particular action are defined by the particular network.
Article 185 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides a legal basis for the EU to support the integration of national research programmes. In an Article 185 Initiative, participating Member States integrate their research efforts by defining and committing themselves to a joint research programme, in which the EU also participates financially.
Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) are long-term Public-Private Partnerships involving industry, the research community and public authorities. They are managed by dedicated legal entities based on Article 187 TFEU (ex Article 171 TEC). JTIs support large-scale multinational research activities in areas of major interest to European industrial competitiveness and of high societal relevance.
The programme has a total budget of over € 50 billion for the period 2007-2013. The largest part is earmarked for cooperation research projects (€ 32 billion). Fundamental research will receive € 7.5 billion, the People Programme will be provided funding of € 4.75 billion, the Capacities programme has € 4 billion and Euratom € 2.7 billion. FP7 will contribute in total up to a maximum of € 1 billion to the Risk-sharing Finance Facility (€0.8 bn from the Cooperation and €0.2 bn from the Capacities (research infrastructures) parts of FP7), which will be matched by the same amount from the EIB.
Concerning individual projects, the basic principle of funding in FP7 is co-financing. This means that, in general, the Commission does not "purchase" research services by placing contracts and paying a price. Rather, it gives grants to projects, thus contributing a certain percentage to the overall costs. The exception is the Marie Curie Actions which provide 100% funding for researcher costs: the Community financial contribution combines the reimbursement of the eligible costs with flat rates, including scale of unit costs and lump sums.
The maximum reimbursement rates for the costs of a project depend on the funding scheme, the legal status of the participants and the type of activity.
JRC has an FP7 budget of €280 million to purchase support for its own scientific work programme ("direct actions").
The Direct Actions of the JRC are funded to 100% of the cost of the procurement.
Participation in FP7 is open to a wide range of organisations and individuals. Universities, research centres, multinational corporations, SMEs, public administrations, funding bodies, even individuals – all have the opportunity to participate in FP7.
As a general principle, FP7 is open to participation from any country in the world. However, the procedures for participation and the funding possibilities vary for different groups of countries. The research entities from the EU Member States enjoy the broadest rights and access to funding. The same conditions as to Member States apply to countries associated to FP7.1
Among the third countries not associated to FP7 are the group of middle and low income countries that are considered as International Cooperation Partner Countries (e.g. Russia, Eastern European and Central Asian states, China, India, Latin America, Mediterranean partners etc.). Participants from these countries are also entitled to funding under the same conditions as EU Member States. The only restriction for them is that consortia must first have the required minimum number of participants from Member States or associated countries. Participation from industrialised high-income countries is also possible on a self-financing basis, except if specified that EU funding will be granted.
Cooperation with “third countries” is explicitly encouraged in FP7 with the key objectives of supporting European competitiveness in selected fields through strategic partnerships with third countries; encouraging the best third-country scientists to work in and with Europe and addressing specific problems that either have a global character or are commonly faced by third countries, on the basis of mutual interest and mutual benefit. Finally, FP7 also provides for international outgoing and incoming fellowships for third countries in order to foster collaboration with research groups outside Europe.
For a very large part of FP7, grants are not provided to individual researchers or firms but rather to transnational partnerships. The transnational partnerships are the rule for the Cooperation and Capacities Specific Programmes and some of the People Programme Actions will also fund transnational partnerships (Initial Training Networks, Industry-Academia Partnerships & Pathways, and International Research Staff Exchange Scheme). Individual researchers and research organisations are foreseen in the Specific Ideas and People programmes as well as in some parts of the Capacities programme.
It is important to underline that FP7 is not just for researchers in research entities or the education sector. Across the range of activities supported by FP7, companies may also participate. The Marie Curie Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) scheme is specifically designed for commercial enterprises. Enterprises are also the main players in the European Technology Platforms (ETP) and Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI).
Collaborative and frontier research, training and career development
In the case of the Cooperation Programme, themes that would be of particular interest to researchers in companies would include ICT, Industrial technologies (NMP), Food, agriculture and biotechnology, Transport (including aeronautics), Energy and Space. In the case of frontier research under the Ideas Programme, projects will be funded on the basis of the excellence of the research, irrespective of whether from the public or private sectors while, under the People Programme, the participation of industry and SMEs is foreseen through all Marie Curie actions. In addition, FP7 contains a range of actions that are specifically aimed at addressing the needs of companies.
In the case of SMEs, a specific action under the Capacities Programme allows them to strengthen their overall position through networking and relationship building with international partners, access to research centres of excellence and development of research.
It is implemented through two funding schemes where the key component is the outsourcing of research to RTD performers:
Regions of Knowledge
FP7 is implementing the programme Regions of Knowledge that brings together the various research partners within a region to promote research-driven clusters for the benefit of regional economic and social development. An obligatory partner in a research driven cluster is an enterprise (including SMEs), along with a research entity and a regional or local authority. The aim of support under Regions of Knowledge is to allow the elements of the clusters to link up, strengthen their research abilities and potential and to collaborate in trans-national consortia
Risk-Sharing Finance Facility
Improving access to loans for RTD actions requires public support to overcome market deficiencies for the financing of riskier actions. In order to address this problem, the Risk-Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF) aims to support notably private investors in research, demonstration and innovation projects, improving access to loan finance from the European Investment Bank (EIB). RSFF loans can support single entities of any size and ownership investing in R&D and Innovation. Progressively, RSFF will be offered in each of the Members States and FP7 Associated Countries through partner banks of the EIB in order to allow also access for smaller projects and beneficiaries (like SMEs). For the period 2007-2013, RSFF loans of up to EUR 10 billion can be made available by the EIB, with the support of FP7 funding to cover risk related to RSFF loans.
Unfortunately, it is not simply a case of writing in and asking for a grant. There are a number of steps that must be followed.
Clearly, the activity for which you require support must fall within the range of activities funded by under FP7. Normally, this is not such a serious hurdle. As indicated above, the range of activities across the Specific Programmes is very wide. However, different participation rules apply depending on the research initiative in question. Going through the questions in the Checklist will help you identify for which FP7 strand you might be eligible.
'Work programmes' and 'Calls for Proposals'
Given that FP7 covers such a wide range of activities it is not realistic for each activity to be open for funding at all times. The concrete plans for implementing the Specific Programmes are announced by the European Commission in annual 'Work Programmes'. These work programmes include the schedule of 'Calls for Proposals', commonly known just as 'Calls', to be published during the year. Each Call usually covers a specific research area. In order for your idea to be considered for funding at a particular moment, a relevant Call must be open.
Publication of Calls
All Calls are announced in the EU’s Official Journal (which is the official source of EU documents). The annual work programmes and the full texts of the Calls are published on the FP7 Participant Portal. Other information and services related to Community research can be found on the CORDIS website.
Submitting a proposal
You respond to a Call by submitting your proposal. Proposals may be submitted at any time after a Call opens for submissions, up until the deadline (which is strictly applied). The Guide for Applicants for the Call in question (also published on the Participant Portal) will guide you through the process, and point you towards other useful documents. A Web-based online tool called EPSS (‘Electronic Proposal Submission Service’) is the obligatory channel for the submission of proposals.
Evaluation of proposals
After the deadline for the Call, all the proposals submitted are evaluated by a panel of independent evaluators, who are recognized specialists in the relevant fields. The panel will check the proposals against a published set of criteria to see if the quality of research proposed is worthy of funding. The key criteria used for this evaluation are explained in the Guide for Applicants. 2
Negotiation and approval
For successful proposals, the European Commission enters into financial and scientific/technical negotiations with you and/or your consortium on the details of the project. Finally, a grant agreement between each participant and the Commission is drawn up. This sets out the rights and obligations of the beneficiaries and the European Community, including the EU's financial contribution to your research costs.
For additional information on all issues related to Calls (including step-by-step advice on how to submit a proposal, eligibility criteria, evaluations, Intellectual Property issues, etc.), always refer to the Guide for Applicants.
Direct Actions of the JRC: The JRC Calls for Tender are published regularly and as required. The latest status can be checked on the JRC internet site at http://web.jrc.ec.europa.eu/callsfortender/.
The assessment of tenders is undertaken by staff of the European Commission based on the information and documents provided by the tenderer against criteria set in the Call for Tender.
From 1 January 2007, EC FP7 agreements with Switzerland, Israel, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia are in force. From 1 January 2008, agreements with Albania and Montenegro are in force. The only country currently associated to Euratom FP7 is Switzerland.
You can also apply to become an evaluator yourself, although you will never be invited to evaluate a proposal in which you have a conflict of interest. Go to https://cordis.europa.eu/emmfp7/index.cfm for more details.
Last updated on: 2012-09-25