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Horizon 2020 & Structural Funds (2014–2020) – What to expect?

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The current European Union (EU) research and innovation programs and related funding schemes will end in 2013 and many stakeholders – such as the distributed computing and e-Infrastructure communities – are wondering what to expect afterwards. The European Commission (EC) will combine three schemes – the 7th Framework Program, the Competitiveness and Innovation Program, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – into a single Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation. This new program has been named ‘Horizon 2020’.

While Horizon 2020 is focused on an EU level, addressing grand societal challenges and supporting competitiveness, ‘Structural Funds’ are targeted at the national level and at European regions, being more concerned with capacity building and development of Research Infrastructures. Horizon 2020 and Structural Funds are different programs designed to jointly contribute to the shared objectives of Europe 2020, the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) and Innovation Union (IU) by developing synergies.

Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 will, for the first time, provide a set of common objectives across funding for research and innovation. It will be based on three main themes:

·         excellence in science base

·         tackling societal challenges

·         creating industrial leadership and competitive frameworks

The goal is to allow more openness and flexibility, with less prescriptive funding calls and better use of bottom-up initiatives. In Horizon 2020, according to EC plans one should see a simpler funding landscape for research and innovation, with common rules, a single audit approach, and shorter negotiation and selection phases.

The current 7th Framework Program’s budget of €55 billion for research and innovation is likely to increase to €80 billion for 2014–2020, representing a sharp 46% increase. This substantial raise can be considered a big success and an EC sign of confidence in the continued need to invest in innovation across Europe, especially as budgets in other areas will either shrink or remain flat.

The final version of the EC’s proposal for Horizon 2020 will be presented on 30 November at the Innovation Conventionin Brussels, followed by legislative decisions through the Council and European Parliament between 2012 and 2013. The first call for proposals is expected in autumn 2013, with Horizon 2020 officially starting in 2014.

E-Infrastructures and Horizon 2020

In Horizon 2020, e-Infrastructures are seen as a critical foundation for e-science and open access to scientific data, enabling researchers to push the boundaries of science. The continued improvement in e-Infrastructures and further federation of national efforts will enable knowledge and innovation for research infrastructures. This will in turn foster the development of genuine pan-European infrastructures.

The most important aspects of e-Infrastructure in the years to come are: development of innovative services to exploit the data deluge, facilitate open access, interoperability and a stronger user-centric approach.

Some identified critical areas include:

·         Improving collaboration and integration between Research Infrastructures and e-Infrastructures;

·         Leveraging activities and services beyond research, including communication, education and training within all e-Infrastructures initiatives;

·         Enhancing the dialogue with industry, especially with small to medium enterprises (SMEs), to foster knowledge and technology transfer, both as a supplier and a user;

·         Broaden the role of e-Infrastructures beyond research to other areas, e.g. transport, government, energy and health.

The EC should ensure that there is a closer cooperation between the Directorate General for Information Society and Media (the funding source for e-Infrastructure projects) and the Directorate General for Research and Infrastructure (the funding source for ESFRI projects). As a result of better coordination, durable connection between e-Infrastructures and ESFRI projects should result in increased mutual benefits. Gaining momentum and a strong element of continuity in collaboration between EGI and ESFRI projects will lead to stronger links between e-Infrastructures and emerging Virtual Research Communities (VRCs). Ideally, every ESFRI infrastructure should eventually become part of the discipline-specific VRC.

Structural Funds

After 2013, Structural Funds will have an increased emphasis on innovation and smart growth specialisation in order to address the digital divide between countries and regions. This will be achieved by developing world-class research and ICT infrastructures, establishing networks of research facilities, and developing regional partner facilities.

Organisations from the EU Member States eligible for funding include public bodies, some private sector organisations (especially small businesses), universities, associations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and voluntary organisations. Project proposals should demonstrate the impact of the facilities (ie. the research or e-Infrastructures) on the economy of the region, particularly in terms of creation and development of research and innovation.

In a period of financial constraints on public funding from national governments, Horizon 2020 and Structural Funds are critically important in defining the future funding environment of organisations and the long-term sustainability of e-Infrastructures. The ability to align the goals of a project proposal to the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe and the Innovation Union will be vital for obtaining funding from future programs, such as Horizon 2020 and Structural Funds.

This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on egi.eu

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