The EU needs a more coherent research funding landscape

An informal meeting under EU Estonian Presidency

The EU ministers responsible for research convened at an informal meeting in the Tallinn Creative Hub (Kultuurikatel) on 24-25 July 2017 to discuss how to increase the impact of research and innovation in Europe and clarify the EU research funding landscape.  

The meeting was chaired by the Estonian Minister for Education and Research Mailis Reps who said that the future of Europe's competitiveness depends on research and innovation. "Research funding is not a cost but an investment that converts to economic growth, new technologies, a clean and sustainable environment, better health and education, and a more coherent society. We need to convince a wider audience at the EU and national levels that everyone benefits from supporting ambitious investments in research and innovation," said Minister Reps.

On 24 July, the ministers attended an Estonian e-government presentation where they have been introduced to Estonian e-services and e-residency, cybersecurity and mobile positioning issues, as well as the digital language-learning tool – Lingvist.

The Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation Lars Heikensten gave a keynote speech on the impact of research.

On 25 July, the ministers discussed how to strengthen the impact and relevance of research in the EU. There were presentations by the President Emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute, Pascal Lamy, and by the President of the Academy of Finland, Heikki Mannila. The keynote speaker of the working lunch was Taavet Hinrikus, member of the European Innovation Council and co-founder and Chairman of TransferWise. In the afternoon, the discussions focused on the question of how to make the EU research and innovation funding landscape simpler and more accessible to potential applicants. Presentations were made by Jana Kolar, Executive Director of CERIC-ERIC and Luc Soete, a Maastricht University professor.

Interim evaluation of Horizon 2020

One of the main topics during the Estonian Presidency is the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020. The EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation is the largest research programme in the world. The discussions on the results of the interim evaluation lead up to the proposals for the next multiannual financial framework, and the next research and innovation framework programme.

The ministers acknowledged that research and innovation investments should be seen as a necessity for Europe to be competitive in the future, and emphasised that research has the most impact through educated, competent people.

The Estonian Minister for Education and Research, Mailis Reps, who chaired the meeting, said that discussion on the future of research and innovation necessarily involve discussions of the budget, which reflects political priorities. "We cannot continue with business as usual if we want to stay competitive in the global market. To achieve a budget jump in research and innovation in Europe, we have to show people, companies, and our colleagues negotiating the budget the strong positive impact that excellent research has on the economy and society," said Minister Reps.

Pascal Lamy, the chair of the High-Level Group on maximising the impact of EU research & innovation programmes, outlined the necessary steps at the EU level to increase that impact, based on the findings of the group.

Heikki Mannila, President of the Academy of Finland spoke about the broad impact of research at the national level. The roundtable discussion focused on the questions of how to build a stronger case for investing more in research and innovation, and what needs to be improved in the next framework programme to achieve higher impact.

The European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas said that it is time to make European research and innovation inspirational and more people-oriented. "We have been concentrating on the process of research and innovation, but not looking enough at the person, the innovators. We should look more at people and get them around ideas and missions. Missions that people understand and relate to and people on the streets feel proud of."

"We all agree that the partnerships are important. However, the current partnering system is so complex and fragmented that it is very difficult to make sense of it without professional consultants," said the Estonian Minister for Education and Research Mailis Reps.

The Executive Director of CERIC-ERIC Jana Kolar spoke about the advantages and challenges of the partnering approach, drawing on her experience with joint programming and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

Luc Soete, Maastricht University professor, reflected on the current situation and discussed the possibilities for rationalising the landscape. Luc Soete said that there are good economic arguments in favour of European research and innovation collaboration, but the implementation is critical. "European research and innovation partnerships appear today to increase the cost of carrying out research in Europe: the fragmentation amongst countries and stakeholders is being replaced with fragmentation across instruments," noted Soete.

The ministers conceded that it is important to make the partnership approach more strategic, align resources and activities around common concrete objectives, and to reduce the number of different initiatives.

The impact and value of research will also be the focus of the Estonian Presidency conference 'European Research Excellence - Impact and Value for Society' on 12 October 2017 in Tallinn. At the conference the Tallinn call for action will be presented, which provides steps for the concerted actions of key stakeholders to move towards increased impact, and the societal value of European research. The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union aims to reach an agreement on the Council conclusions on the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 and future orientations for the next framework programme by the end of the year.