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MEPs want more money for small businesses under Horizon 2020

At least 20 per cent of Horizon 2020 funding should go to small businesses, according to members of the European Parliament’s research committee.

Following a proposal from the European Commission to boost the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in Horizon 2020, MEPs across political parties have asked for higher financial commitments to raise the bar compared with Framework 7. So far, the Commission plans for SMEs to receive around 15 per cent of the so-called societal challenges and industrial leadership budget streams.

Paul Rübig, a Christian-Democrat MEP from Austria, is among those who suggested amendments to the Commission’s proposal regarding SME financing. “While Framework 7 held and is likely to achieve a target of 15 per cent, a more ambitious but realistic and achievable goal is needed to fully exploit the SMEs’ innovative potential,” Rübig wrote.

During a meeting of the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee last week, Teresa Riera Madurell, a Spanish socio-democrat MEP drafting the Parliament’s response on establishing Horizon 2020, added that 20 per cent should be a binding target.

MEPs showed support during the same meeting for a Commission proposal to set up a special funding pot for SMEs. Philippe Lamberts, a Green MEP from Belgium, said that “at least 10 per cent” of the Horizon 2020 budget should go to this instrument, and that this should be managed by a single, dedicated Commission department.

Modelled on a US programme called Small Business Innovation Research, “this approach is similar to that of the European Research Council,” says Chris Hull, secretary-general of the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations. Instead of requiring applicants to form groups of organisations in several EU countries, the proposed programme would fund single companies and encourage competition across Europe.

SMEs who receive funding could choose to use this money to work with research institutes, according to the Commission. “SMEs can decide how best to organise the project and with whom to collaborate, including subcontracting tasks if they lack in-house capabilities,” the Commission says.

Small businesses have praised this approach. The special funding system would allow businesses to take the lead in projects instead of being added as token applicants, says Gerhard Huemer, policy director at the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.