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Commission wants clear division between structural funds and Horizon 2020

The European Commission wants a clearer division of purpose between structural funds for regional development and the future research programme Horizon 2020.

In the present multi-annual financial framework, which ends in 2013, structural funds can be used for some research, if it helps build local capacities. The EU’s main research fund is Framework 7, which is to be replaced with Horizon 2020 in the next financial framework.

“The mistake we’ve made in the past is that we didn’t have a clear division of objectives,” said Robert-Jan Smits, the Commission’s director general for research at the Forum EU Research and Innovation: what role for regions and cities after 2013, held at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels on 13 December.

“There is a very important objective that is capacity building, and that is not Horizon 2020’s role. Horizon 2020’s role is to link excellence at the EU level,” Smits added. “We have beautiful examples in Ireland or Spain [of regions] which built up knowledge economies thanks to structural funds, and their companies and universities are now very active in the Framework Programme.”

Jan van den Biesen, vice-president at electronics company Philips Research in the Netherlands, agreed with Smits: “Structural funds and Horizon 2020 have different goals, different mechanisms and tools. You would burden participants if you merged them. It’s much better now with a clear definition of roles.”

Under the proposal for Horizon 2020, two Framework 7 funding schemes to build up research capacity in European regions have been taken out of the EU’s research funding programme: “Regions of Knowledge” and “Research Potential of Convergence Regions”.

Dimitri Corpakis, another DG research official, told the forum that this decision had been made about a year ago when the Commission issued its budget review. “I don’t know if there will be programmes like this in the future,” he said. But he added that if member states wanted to invest in this kind of activities, there would be instruments to make it happen under the EU’s cohesion policy funding programme.