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EU to offer leeway on grants affected by Covid-19


Researchers affected by the disease outbreak told to inform EU funding bodies

The European Commission has said it will offer flexibility to grant holders who face difficulties carrying out EU-funded research due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson told Research Professional News the Commission “is aware that the outbreak of Covid-19 in the EU and elsewhere may have negative effects on the implementation of actions under programmes funded by the EU budget, including research projects under Horizon 2020”.

Under Horizon 2020 rules, researchers can be excused from obligations under grant agreements in situations of ‘force majeure’. Unpredictable events beyond the control of researchers, such as the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, would qualify, the Commission indicated.

In such situations, researchers should “immediately inform the Commission or the [Research Executive] Agency, which will examine on a case-by-case basis the possible application of the rules on force majeure”.

For Horizon 2020 projects, this should be done via the funding and tenders portal of the Commission website, where Research Professional News understands information will soon be provided on Covid-19. Project officers will decide whether the rules apply.

Obstacles to researchers thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic might include self-isolation or quarantine preventing normal research activity. Cancellations of scientific meetings could impact the progress of projects, and Research Professional News understands that costs incurred due to such cancellations might be eligible for reimbursement under the force majeure rules.

Individual funding agencies are also offering reassurance to researchers whose work is impacted by the pandemic. A spokesperson for the European Research Council said grantees “can request the agency to extend the period of their grants”, adding: “We are usually flexible as long as we have clear explanation how the project is impacted.”

The Commission announced on 13 March that it “understood” that national measures to contain Covid-19 was having consequences for participants in the EU’s Erasmus+ academic exchange programme, including “that certain participants are either unable to travel from their home base, or are unable to return there from their host location”.

“To respond to these uncertainties, we are applying the maximum flexibility we can in the implementation of the programme, within the limits of the applicable legal framework,” it said.

“We have issued guidance to Erasmus+ National Agencies that they can invoke the ‘force majeure’ clauses. This will allow them to assess the possibility to accept additional costs up to a maximum grant amount. It may also enable them to postpone the planned activities by up to 12 months per project.”

The Commission said it was monitoring the situation very closely and would adopt any additional measure that might become necessary.

This article was updated on 13 March with the announcement on Erasmus+.