What’s in the 2021-2027 Horizon?
Europe is fragmented in terms of funding for R&D. Some countries invest more, while others lag behind. This disparity represents a major challenge for the current and the next Horizon programme. Horizon Europe will be crucial in developing a European R&D ecosystem which will allow innovative ideas to flourish. Yet, this development does not regard only Europe: the development of such an ecosystem is necessary to include an international dimension.
Cooperation in R&D becomes more inclusive and global, meaning that more stakeholders are involved in it and these stakeholders come from all geographies. Horizon Europe wants to reinforce this trend, by opening to the world. Lessons from the current H2020 can be useful to overcome impediments in the international dimension of the future programme. Many organisations consider H2020 too complicated and do not have the resources to familiarize with its processes and workings. Geopolitics is another challenge as political pressures can have a negative impact on cooperation. Furthermore, the "Europe first" notion both in H2020 and Horizon Europe generates concerns for a brain drain to Europe.
Engagement of countries outside Europe is a controversial issue. While there is a general consensus on both sides that this should be improved and enhanced – an element that is envisaged in Horizon Europe – the key question is how this engagement will take place. Generally, stakeholders outside Europe have welcomed the international opening of the programme, highlighting the need to offer more opportunities to researchers outside Europe and be more flexible. On the other hand, the "Europe first" idea does not resonate very well and dialogue with emphasis on shared interests will be necessary to strike necessary and mutually beneficial balances.
In the Horizon Europe there will be key changes for the Associated Countries, countries that contribute to the Programme, in order to be more agile and attractive. Horizon Europe will open to other industrialized countries, however positions of member-states vary significantly on their participation. This issue touches upon another complex challenge Europe has to face: Brexit. Should the UK stay as an associated country, this will provide some limited flexibility to select the way it will participate in EU funding programmes, raising concerns about "cherry-picking", a very controversial topic. An important change regarding associated countries refers to their contribution to the Programme: currently contributions are based on GDP share, while in the Horizon Europe the idea is to move towards an approach where the more a country contributes, the more it receives.
Beyond its international dimension, challenges for Horizon Europe refer to the philosophy of the Programme: quality excellence will continue to be an underlying principle and a decisive criterion for funding. Yet, there are different arguments on how is defined and measured. Policy makers favour a short-term approach, i.e. in terms of immediate benefits of the programme, with a strong focus on growth and jobs. Scientific community calls for a long-term perspective, stressing the danger that too narrow focus on immediate benefits as measure for excellence will eliminate funding for research which is crucial but its results are not evident in the short-term.
Funding for high-risk ideas is an element that all stakeholders would like to see more in the new programme. In this regard, a bottom-up approach to what is going to be funded should be developed, meaning that communication between policy-makers and researchers should be enriched. Finally, another feature of the programme which part of the scientific community does not see very favorably is the separation between knowledge-oriented research and application-oriented research. The argument here is that a more integrated approach is needed to fully reap the benefits of the Horizon Europe.
Photo © European Union, 2019