This is the biggest civilian, multiannual research and innovation program in the world – amounting to 95.5 bn EUR. On one hand, it is logical as it is serving a large group of advanced countries with a total population of over 450 million people. On the other hand, it is a unique multinational effort to boost research, innovation and entrepreneurship as a key vehicle of growth and development. The problem is that obviously there is not sufficient political determination to reach this ambitious target.

It should not be neglected that the source of the new Horizon is the “Lisbon Strategy” by which EU member states in 2002 adopted the Commission’s communication: “More research for Europe – Towards 3% of GDP”. This strategy has referred to ambitious goal for EU to become by 2010 “the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world” by investing 3% of GDP into R&D. Unfortunately, this goal has not to be achieved, as even now the EU members invest in R&D on average only about 2% of their GDP.

While this is a major obstacle for Europe to grow into the most competitive economy in the world, it certainly isn’t the only one. By numerous indicators, Europe is also not as entrepreneurial, as the US, and several Asian economies.

But if Horizon Europe 2021-2027 deserves recognition, it is that it demonstrates that the approach to innovation has been modernized, obviously leaving behind the old-fashioned evolutionary model of the innovation system, and – instead of targeting quality research results as the product of high-quality science – the Horizon is now placing priority on innovative new products and services, to be developed through productive collaboration among business and academic research. This is the most important and promising conceptual shift not only in the heads of principle policymakers at national and regional levels but also on the part of the researchers.

About the Programme

Horizon Europe is a planned 7-year European Union scientific research initiative, a successor of the recent Horizon 2020 programme and the earlier Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development. The European Commission drafted and approved a plan for Horizon Europe to raise EU science spending levels by 50% over the years 2021-2027.

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation. It is addressing the following three strategic objectives:

  • climate change;
  • helps to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals;
  • boosts the EU’s competitiveness and growth.

This programme facilitates collaboration and strengthens the impact of research and innovation in developing, supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges. It supports creating and better dispersing of excellent knowledge and technologies.

Horizon Europe supports European partnerships in which the EU, national authorities and/or the private sector jointly commit to support the development and implementation of a programme of research and innovation activities. The goal of European partnerships is to contribute to the achievement of EU priorities, address complex challenges outlined in Horizon Europe and strengthen the European Research Area (ERA).

Horizon Europe was presented by the European Commission as a programme where "the principles of Open Science will be the modus operandi", requiring the beneficiaries of European funding to provide open access to publications and data. Involving a total investment of 95.5 billion Euros, the initiative includes several novelties, such as the implementation of the European Innovation Council. The model strengthens this reinforcement of Open Science by including a specific section dedicated to the topic. The agreement regulates, from the outset, the publication of research results in an open-access regime, defining this as a mandatory step.

The new model also brings novelties regarding research data management, detailing the need to comply with fair principles. To this end, a data management plan should be established, as well as the deposit of information in certified repositories. Finally, the new document foresees the possible integration of "additional practices" of Open Science in the calls for proposals. Beneficiaries could, for example, ensure access to data validating the findings of their scientific publications. Furthermore, the template also foresees the possibility of specific measures for sharing research results in case of a public emergency.

New elements in Horizon Europe

1. European Innovation Council

Support for innovations with potential breakthrough and disruptive nature with scale-up potential that may be too risky for private investors. There is 70% of the budget earmarked for SMEs.

Many public fundings are available for fundamental research and proofs of concept at the national and international level. Private investors bet on promising start-ups that have already proven their worth. One of the challenges of Horizon Europe and more specifically of the European Innovation council (EIC) is to fill the funding gap around the creation and up-scaling of new companies, helping research to go to the market and have a true impact on society. To reach these objectives, the EIC will propose two funding schemes: EIC pathfinder and EIC accelerator.

2. Missions

Sets of measures to achieve bold, inspirational and measurable goals within a set timeframe. There are 5 main missions as part of Horizon Europe.

Horizon Europe will incorporate research and innovation missions to increase the effectiveness of funding by pursuing clearly defined targets. The Commission has engaged policy experts to develop studies, case studies and reports on how a mission-oriented policy approach will work. Five mission areas have been identified, each with a dedicated mission board and assembly. The board and assembly help specify, design and implement the specific and very ambitious missions which are launched under Horizon Europe:

  • cancer: by 2030, more than 3 million lives saved;
  • adaptation to climate change including societal transformation (climate): by 2030, prepare Europe to deal with climate disruptions, accelerate the transition to a healthy and prosperous future within safe planetary boundaries and scale-up solutions for resilience that will trigger transformations in society;
  • healthy oceans, seas coastal and inland waters (oceans): by 2030, cleaning marine and freshwaters, restoring degraded ecosystems and habitats, decarbonising the blue economy in order to sustainably harness the essential goods and services they provide;
  • climate-neutral and smart cities (cities): by 2030, support, promote and showcase 100 European cities in their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality;
  • soil health and food (soil): by 2030, at least 75% of all soils in the EU are to be healthy for food, people, nature and climate.

EU missions are commitments to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our world like fighting cancer, adapting to climate change, protecting our oceans, living in greener cities and ensuring soil health and food. They are an integral part of the Horizon Europe framework programme beginning in 2021. Each mission will operate as a portfolio of actions – such as research projects, policy measures or even legislative initiatives - to achieve a measurable goal that could not be achieved through individual actions. EU missions will contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.

This will be achieved through the following two conceptual novelties:

  1. Open science policy. Mandatory open access to publications and open science principles are applied throughout the programme. The main concrete actions are:

    • open access publications will be mandatory. The commission has funded the development of an open-access publishing platform to host beneficiaries’ publications;
    • attention will be paid to generate FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Re-usable) and open data. Data sharing will become the standard, unless you have a good reason, like IP protection (the motto is to be as open as possible, as close as necessary).
    • the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) will be created to share research results;
    • open science will be promoted by new indicators to evaluate researchers;
    • reciprocity of the openness will be strongly encouraged for the collaboration with third countries.
  2. New approach to partnerships. Objective-driven and more ambitious partnerships with industry in support of EU policy objectives. In particular:

    • the number of associated countries will be increased;
    • more actions and calls involving third countries will be set up.

Horizon Europe Programme structure

The content of work programmes for Horizon Europe is prepared by strategic planning and the resultant strategic plan. Funding opportunities under Horizon Europe are set out in work programmes.

Pillar 1

The Excellent Science Pillar aims to increase the EU’s global scientific competitiveness. It supports frontier research projects driven by top researchers through the European Research Council, funds fellowships for experienced researchers, doctoral training networks and exchanges through Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, and invests in world-class research infrastructures.

Pillar 2

The Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness Pillar supports research relating to societal challenges and reinforces technological and industrial capacities through clusters. It sets ambitious goals for EU missions. It also includes the Joint Research Centre which supports EU and national policymakers with independent scientific evidence and technical support.

Pillar 3

The Innovative Europe Pillar aims to make Europe a frontrunner in market-creating innovation via the European Innovation Council. It also helps to develop the overall EU innovation landscape through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology which fosters the integration of the knowledge triangle of education, research and innovation.

Horizontal Pillar

Widening Participation and Strengthening the European Research Area (ERA) by increasing support to the EU Member States in their efforts to make the most of their national research and innovation potential, fostering closer collaborations and spreading excellence.

Closing thoughts

Policy priorities of Horizon Europe may be coming a bit late, but they are undoubtedly correct, as they are shifting the focus from science and research only to innovation and entrepreneurship – as instruments of energising the growth potential of knowledge economy. It is of course of tremendous importance that member states, and particularly their governments realize that there is no time to be wasted if Europe really wants to strengthen its global competitive position.

This can be achieved if member governments realize that they need to increase their R&D investment (reaching 3% GERD is achievable – as demonstrated by the Scandinavian countries), but equally to build efficient innovation ecosystems.

One of the European weaknesses is the fragmentation of its innovation potential, something that can be reduced by stronger collaboration, including “political blessing” which means that governments and regional authorities have to actively support more intensive cross-border collaboration. That’s the only way how reaching critical mass at the Union level can be achieved in a relatively short time. This means strengthening the European Research Area in real terms.

Furthermore, it is important that – in the context of a rather slow enlargement process in the region of Western Balkans – the focus will be also on strengthening research and technological cooperation with partners from Western Balkans. Supporting smart specialisation strategies in key partner countries will help identify local business opportunities linked to the green and digital transformations.

Europe is not forgetting also the important global competitor - China. The EU-China Joint Roadmap for Future Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation focuses on reaching a level playing field and reciprocity in innovation.

(Article prepared by prof. dr. Ajda Fošner and prof. dr. Boris Cizelj).