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Commission details plans to combine cohesion and research funds

The European Commission has fleshed out plans to use non-Horizon 2020 funds to boost research and innovation in the 2014-20 financial framework.

In a working document released on 14 March, the Commission describes how different funds will be brought together under a so-called “Common Strategic Framework”, not to be confused with the original proposal for Horizon 2020. The Commission details how these funds could be distributed to finance research and innovation in regions and at national level to finance research alongside Horizon 2020, the next EU research funding progamme.

The Commission says that its primary tools to fund research and innovation activities under the CSF will be the European Regional Development Fund and European agricultural funds for regional development.

The ERDF’s structural funds will focus on business innovation and the adoption of enabling technologies, through cooperation with academia and education. In addition, structural funds can be spent on research infrastructure and equipment, “with a clear focus on enhancing applied research” and cooperation with industry to attract business cash, the proposal states. Finally, structural funds will also go to activities that aim to speed up the market uptake of research, such as business advisory services, finance incubators, and pilot activities.

Meanwhile, the agricultural fund will support joint projects by farmers together with researchers and businesses, as part of the recently announced European Innovation Partnership on agriculture.

Research and innovation are the first of eleven priorities the Commission outlined in its October proposal for cohesion policy in 2014-20. Other priorities include information technology, resource efficiency, and transport.

“Technologically leading regions will focus on remaining ahead while peripheral regions will seek to catch up and build stairways to excellence,” the document says. Less developed regions should focus in particular on building up their research capacity and improving technology transfer, while the more advanced regions should be focussing on promoting fast-growing technology-based companies, the Commission states.

Horizon 2020 will not support capacity-building and will not consider geographic specificities in allocating funding, but instead focus on excellence. However, the programme will fund activities aimed at “closing the innovation divide” under the societal challenge “inclusive, innovative and secure societies”, the Commission says.

To improve the complementarities between regional development funds and Horizon 2020, the Commission wants regions to develop Smart Specialisation Strategies.

“These strategies should consider both upstream and downstream actions to and from Horizon 2020 financed by the Common Strategic Framework funds,” the document adds. The CSF will for example fund upstream actions to prepare regional players to take part in projects funded by Horizon 2020, while downstream actions should aim to boost the market uptake of research results.