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Former Portugal science minister to lead advice group on Horizon

Image: European Union

Manuel Heitor to chair team advising on evaluation of EU R&D programme and successor’s design

Former Portugal research minister Manuel Heitor has been appointed to lead a group advising the EU on the interim evaluation of its ongoing research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, as well as on plans for its successor.

The European Commission is set to publish an interim evaluation of Horizon Europe by the end of 2024, before producing a proposal for its successor scheme in 2025.

It announced on 5 December that it had appointed members of an expert group to provide advice on the interim evaluation. It has previously said the group will also make “strategic recommendations on maximising the impact” of successors to Horizon Europe.

Heitor, currently a professor at the University of Lisbon, will chair the Expert Group on the Interim Evaluation of Horizon Europe, which met for the first time today.

The group is a successor to one led by former World Trade Organization director general Pascal Lamy, which advised that Horizon Europe should have roughly double the €80 billion budget of the 2014-20 EU R&I programme, Horizon 2020. Instead, EU politicians settled on a budget of about €95.5bn for 2021-27.

History of advocacy

Heitor is known in the sector for advocating for improved working conditions for researchers during and since his 2015-22 stint as Portugal’s science minister. Recently, he has been working with the Commission on plans to channel EU funding to research institutions with good practices on supporting research careers.

The new expert group is set to meet monthly between January and October next year and will produce a report on how the EU’s R&I programme can continue to add value for the remainder of Horizon Europe and in the future.

The report is expected to contain strategic advice and “concrete suggestions” on how the programme can stay flexible to changing needs, and how it can stay attractive to researchers from the EU and beyond, the Commission said.

“The new group brings together a diverse range of experts, with a wealth of experience. I look forward to their advice on enhancing our R&I programme to remain appealing and adaptive, ensuring it effectively responds to new challenges and delivers real-world impact for our citizens,” said EU R&I commissioner Iliana Ivanova.

‘Encouraging’ membership

In total, 15 experts were selected for the advisory group, which the Commission says has a “balance in gender, age and geographical representation”.

Jan Palmowski, who is on secondment from his post as secretary-general of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, said on social media that the announcement of the group was “encouraging”.

He said the group has “some real ‘heavy-hitters’ with a deep knowledge of EU R&I, with an excellent grasp of how R&I thrives on all its subjects while focusing on the future, and who understand the political and economic context”.

The other members, besides Heitor, are:

  • Conny Aerts, a recipient of Norway’s Kavli Prize in Astrophysics in 2022
  • Anders Bjarklev, president of the Technical University of Denmark
  • Annelien Bredenoord, rector of the Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Maria Chiara Carrozza, president of Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
  • Dessislava Dimitrova, chief executive of Bio Stopanstvo Lopyanko
  • Heinz Fassmann, president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • Mark Ferguson, chair of the board of Soil Steam AS Norway and former Ireland chief scientific adviser
  • Agrita Kiopa, vice-rector for research at Rīga Stradiņš University
  • Kaia Palm, chief executive of Protobios
  • Adam Piotrowski, president of the board at Vigo Photonics
  • Isabelle Ryl, director of Paris Artificial Intelligence Research Institute
  • Georg Schütte, secretary-general of the Volkswagen Foundation
  • Sylvia Schwaag Serger, chair of the Scientific Council at the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development
  • Antti Vasara, president of the Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Lack of outsider lamented

Robert-Jan Smits, the former top R&I official in the Commission, now president of the board of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, told Research Professional News that the panel put together was “a good group with not only familiar faces, but also some newcomers, which I find refreshing”.

But he lamented the absence of a “senior politician from outside the research field who can look at things from another angle”, adding that, when he ran the R&I department, “that’s why we asked Pascal Lamy to take a lead role because he was not seen as a science insider. Furthermore, he was able to open the doors to his peers, being prime ministers and finance ministers who ultimately take the decisions about the next [long-term EU budget].”

Smits pointed out that expectations for the successor to Horizon Europe are high, with the community and some MEPs again seeking a doubling of the programme budget. The programme will have to compete for funding with other policy areas, he stressed, while adding: “Recent elections in EU member states have shown massive support for EU-critical and science-sceptical parties, which will not help.”