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Framework programme set to go global

Expert group recommends widening association to FP9

Framework 9 should be opened up to countries beyond Europe’s neighbours so that the EU can benefit more from global talent, a group of insiders has said.

An expert group appointed by the European Commission to provide a vision for the Framework programme’s future said EU research funds should be accessible to associate members further away, such as Australia and Canada. In a report published on 3 July, the group, chaired by former World Trade Organization director-general Pascal Lamy, said this would be "a step change" in opening up the programme.

"Association of non-EU countries to future EU [Framework] programmes should be governed by excellence in research and innovation, not confined to a particular part of the world," the report recommended.

Associate countries gain full participation in exchange for a budget contribution based on their GDP. In Horizon 2020, association was limited to countries in the vicinity of Europe. Sixteen countries are associated, including Israel and Turkey.

Wealthy third countries, such as Australia, Canada, the United States and China, can participate in Horizon 2020, but have to fund their own individual projects or set up specific co-funding. This change from Framework 7, which was more lenient on spending internationally, has resulted in third-country participation in Horizon 2020 open calls dropping by about half, to a mere 1.8 per cent.

Carlos Moedas, the research commissioner, revealed last month that the Commission had already been discussing the possibility of association with Canadian representatives. At the launch of the group’s report, he favourably quoted a previous assertion of Lamy’s that "the world needs Europe to civilise globalisation", underlining this global perspective.

The mandate of the group of 12 research and innovation specialists from across academia and industry was to suggest a vision for the future of the Framework programme to maximise its impact. Its report will inform the 2018-20 work programme for Horizon 2020 and set the scene for a debate on Framework 9, which is due to start in 2021.

The group made 11 overarching recommendations. One was that Europe’s education system needed to "systematically embed innovation and entrepreneurship, starting from early stage school curricula".

The report said universities "need urgent renewal to stimulate entrepreneurship and tear down disciplinary borders". Future Framework programmes should provide incentives for this, it said. Universities that promote open science, open innovation and being open to the world—Moedas’s three priorities for his term—could be recognised and rewarded.

The League of European Research Universities pushed back against this in a statement. Leru said it broadly agreed with the report, but would prefer open science at universities to be stimulated through Framework 9’s rules of participation. "It is important to not overly complicate the Framework programme. Mission drift should be avoided," Leru said.

The expert group wants to retain the three-pillar structure of Horizon 2020, dividing funding into science and skills, innovation and competitiveness, and global challenges. The global challenges should support large-scale interdisciplinary missions with non-prescriptive calls, based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it said.

In addition, a "substantial proportion" of structural and agricultural funds should finance research and innovation aligned with the programme’s objectives. State aid rules should be revised to help.

Framework 9 should receive a minimum budget of €120 billion for seven years, €45bn more than Horizon 2020. Doubling the Horizon 2020 budget to about €160bn would be "the best investment the EU could make", the experts said.

Mailis Reps, minister for education and research in Estonia, which took over the EU presidency on 1 July, said that increased funding should be seen as an investment.

This article also appeared in Research Europe