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An unprecedented collective action for an unprecedented Research and Innovation European Framework Programme

31 July 2018

By Ludovic Thilly
University of Poitiers, Chair of the Coimbra Group Executive Board

The European scene of Research and Innovation (R&I) has been particularly rich during the months of June and July this year, months that will be crucial for the future of R&I in Europe in the coming years.

On 7 June, the European Commission published its proposal for a regulation of the ninth framework programme for R&I, Horizon Europe, with a proposed budget of €97.6 billion.

On 15 June, 14 European associations representing universities, among them the Coimbra Group, reacted with a joint statement asking the European Parliament and the European Council to support “Horizon Europe” and to incorporate the necessary changes to ensure that it will fulfil the EU’s ambitions (read the full statement “Universities united for the best Horizon Europe” here).

The European Parliament has appointed MEP Dan Nica, former deputy prime minister of Romania and a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, as the Rapporteur on the overall regulation and rules of participation of “Horizon Europe”. Mr Nica invited European university associations to attend an open debate on “Horizon Europe” on 26 June, in the presence of Carlos Moedas (Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation), Ciprian Preda (Romania’s Deputy Minister for Research and Innovation) and Jean-Eric Paquet (Director-General, DG RTD, European Commission). The Coimbra Group was present at this debate and noted that Mr Nica’s report would be published in early July, with a deadline for final amendments on 6 September, and with a public hearing on “Horizon Europe” on 8 October.

On 29 June, the Coimbra Group and twelve other European university associations sent a series of amendments to the draft regulation of “Horizon Europe” to MEP Dan Nica (read the proposed amendments here).

On 9 July, the draft report from Mr Nica was published (this report can be downloaded here): in addition to the technical amendments that will not be detailed here (except the ones regarding the budget – pp. 60-66 – and the ones related to the participation rules proposing to include EFTA countries such as Switzerland – page 80), this report closes with an “explanatory statement” that is particularly worth reading. Mr Nica states that “Horizon Europe should be simpler, clearer and more accessible and that it should promote fair and transparent participation” and “welcomes the fact that Horizon Europe maintains the same 3-Pillar structure as Horizon 2020. However, he is of the opinion Pillars II and III (based on TLR levels) are not always clearly described and not well substantiated. Pillar II, for example, introduces the concept of Missions but the text remains rather vague. The same applies to Pillar III. It introduces the new European Innovation Council (EIC) without a proper description of its activities. This, notwithstanding the fact that the EIC is considered as a political priority and it is given a large share of Horizon Europe budget”. The Rapporteur is “also concerned that fundamental research and academia have received limited attention. He has therefore tabled several amendments to redress this”. Mr Nica also calls for “a more appropriate budget” (“120 billion Euros in constant price”), “stronger fundamental and collaborative research” among many other important statements. These opinions surely reflect that Mr Nica took our proposed amendments into consideration while preparing his report. Let us hope that the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission will support Mr Nica’s views.

This unprecedented joint action from European university associations has certainly measured up to the challenge, and the Coimbra Group will continue to support similar common advocacy activities to the benefit of all European higher education and research institutions. We remain convinced that a global increase of the budget for “Horizon Europe” is mandatory and more specifically, the first pillar, including the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions and the European Research Council, should be significantly strengthened to multiply the impact on early career researchers and, more globally, on the European Research Area. Moreover, we are still concerned about the lack of definition, in spite of a generous budget, of the European Innovation Council and we are ready to engage in discussions with the European Commission on this subject to guarantee that universities will have a significant role in the future implementation of the Programme. All these issues will be discussed in the coming months and, hence, the Coimbra Group has decided to focus its forthcoming bi-annual high-level research policy seminar for Rectors on “Horizon Europe” and, in particular, on “Defining and measuring impact of research: an inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral approach”. This event will take place on 6 and 7 December 2018, at the Venice International University on the island of San Servolo in the Venice Lagoon (more info here).

Last be not least, the second hot topic is on the European Higher Education scene, the “European Universities” initiative launched by the European Commission and currently in its preparatory phase with a call for proposals to be published in October 2018. Once again, the Coimbra Group is following developments by participating at stakeholder meetings: on 2 July, we were present at a meeting in Paris, at the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, where Ms Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Unit Higher Education at the Directorate-General Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, presented the recent evolution of the initiative: read the report here.

In conclusion, the 2017-2018 academic year was another busy year for Higher Education and Research advocacy, and 2018-2019 promises to be even more intense …

For this reason, the Executive Board and I wish you all a peaceful and restful summer!