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Horizon 2020: first impressions

Academic and research institutes, industry and the European Commission shared their first impressions of Horizon 2020 at the recent Innovation Summit.

Horizon 2020, the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation programme, kicked off at the beginning of 2014. Worth EUR 80 billion and running over seven years, Horizon 2020 promised a simple structure that reduced red tape and time so participants could focus on what is really important. Has this been the experience of participants so far? Last week, representatives from academic and research institutes, industry and the European Commission gathered at last week's Innovation Summit to share their take on year one of Horizon 2020. ‘Congratulations to the creators. This is not a case of “old wine in new bottles” but rather new wine in recycled bottles! It works, at least for my production area’: this was the powerful endorsement from Andreas Förster, Director of Dechema (Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology). Feedback generally followed an encouraging line like this, but speakers also drew attention to areas where there was room for improvement. Concerns were also voiced by all sides about what potential budget cuts that are currently under discussion between the European Parliament and the Council might mean for the programme. Simplifying the process Away from the finances, the issue of simplification, a key ambition of Horizon 2020, was also a focus. Speakers were, in general, satisfied that improvements had been made on this front. Maria da Graca Carvalho, former MEP and rapporteur on the Horizon 2020 proposal report, reflected, ‘We see that it’s much simpler than FP7, and we have tried to make it a more balanced programme in terms of geographical balance, gender balance and a balance between top down and bottom up.’ Bertrand van Ee, CEO of Climate-Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), however went against the general consensus by stating, ‘I think there is enough money but we need to focus on simplification because we are losing a lot of money in the system.’ Call for a two-stage application Getting down to the operational side of things, Bernd Schulte, Vice President of Photonics 21, which formed a Photonics Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the Commission in 2013, urged for the process to become faster and pointed to good examples in Member States. He elaborated on the Photonics 21 experience of its first call under the new programme, noting, ‘There was a good balance between industry and research. However oversubscription was 71, and there are people who will be disappointed. Given the bureaucracy, I don’t know if they will try again.’ Both Mr Schulte and Mr Förster made a call for a two-stage application process to be introduced to reduce the time burden, particularly for those who are not successful. Mr Förster noted, ‘Two-stage proposals would be helpful in terms of reducing the amount of work.’ Positive feedback for the participant portal and PPPs Horizon 2020’s participant portal was singled out for praise. Rudolf Strohmeier, Deputy Director General of DG Research and Innovation, reported that he was receiving good feedback from users. Mr Förster also offered positive feedback on the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) element of the programme, enthusiastically noting, ‘They are excellent – continue with them please!’ The potential of a multi-funding approach With regards to funding, there was some concern among speakers and participants that a multi-funding approach would become a selection criterion. Ms da Graca Carvalho assured participants that Horizon 2020 would not be linked to regional funds but insisted that they could complement each other: ‘It should not be a criterion but we should make sure that there is a mechanism so that the multi-funding approach can happen. Regional funds can act upstream and downstream. We don’t want to link them but one way that they might complement each other is, for example, through a stamp of quality. We have high percentage of proposals that are excellent but do not get funding, and it could be easier for regions to finance them. However, something would need to be solved to achieve this because usually the results are not public.’ For more information, please visit: Horizon 2020 http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/ Innovation Summit 2014 http://www.knowledge4innovation.eu/6th-european-innovation-summit-17-november-20-november-2014

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