EU plans €7bn for research

Thu, Jul 28, 2011, 01:00

Ambitious investment shows confidence that research and innovation are vital to recovery, writes CONOR O'CARROLL

Last week the European Commission announced a budget of €7 billion for research in 2012. This is the largest in the world bar the US National Institutes for Health and Nasa. This fund is part of the Seventh Framework Programme running from 2007 to 2014. It’s successor, named Horizon 2020, has a proposed budget of €80 billion, the only major area for increase in the EC budget after 2014. It is clear from these announcements that European governments see investing in research and innovation as vital to economic recovery.

The main focus of €7 billion funding for 2011 is the integration of research with innovation to tackle societal challenges and create sustainable jobs. It is estimated that in the short term 174,000 jobs will be created. Almost €2 billion is dedicated to Health and ICT research with a quarter focusing the challenge of providing for an ageing popula- tion. This latter aspect will be the first major implementation of the Innovation Union policy partnerships between academia and industry, European Innovation Partnerships.

Funding for frontier research, European Research Council (ERC) and researcher career development (Marie Curie) will be about €2 billion. There are new aspects to these schemes with the ERC providing funds for collaborative research and a small-scale commercialisation. Marie Curie will introduce two new schemes to support doctoral training, European Industrial Doctorates and Innovative Doctoral Programmes.

Since the beginning of Framework Seven, researchers in Ireland have been successful in 955 bids, winning €300 million worth. More than 60 per cent of the funding has gone to universities and institutes of technology, with 25 per cent to companies. The four main areas are ICT (€73m), Marie Curie (€43), Health (€34) and Nanoscience (€27m), with recent success in the European Research Council bringing another €21 million.

Looking back just at 2010 there have been some notable successes. Twelve new RD roles have been created at the TCD Institute of Molecular Medicine, as part of an Irish-led project aiming to develop new medical technology for the early and rapid diagnosis of cancer. Waterford Institute of Technology, the Marine Institute, Intune Networks, Intel and ESB participate in four out of nine funded Future Internet public-private partnership projects. An Institute of Technology initiative stimulated 15 Irish-led proposals from newcomers to the SME- specific programme, securing funding of more than €2.5 million.

Although there are still another two and a half years to go, detailed plans are under way for the successor to Framework Seven. This is not simply business as usual, it is rather an approach to imple- ment the Innovation Union Policy. The main objectives of this policy are, sustainable and inclusive growth, with 3 per cent of GDP invested in RD. It supports funding along the entire innovation chain. It will achieve this by bringing together funding from the traditional Framework Programme, the Community Innovation Programme and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology.

Horizon 2020 will have three broad areas: excellence in the science base, tackling societal challenges, creating industry leaders and a competitive framework.

The announcement of Horizon 2020 coincided with a budget proposal of €80 billion from 2014 to 2020. This would see a rise in spending on research and innovation of about 45 per cent. Part of the plan includes a reduction in farm subsidies to help pay for research, and spending in other major areas of the Commission’s total €1 trillion budget would remain flat. The total EU budget for 2014-2020 would be worth 5 per cent more, in real terms, than that for 2007-2013.

These are only proposals and there is a long way to go before agreement will be reached. The commission will release a detailed proposal on the structure of Horizon 2020 later this year. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will discuss the plan, before emerging in final form by 2013. The parliament is widely expected to ask for even more funds for research and innovation, whereas many member states will seek cuts to this and other portions of the commission’s proposal.

Researchers in Ireland have been very successful in winning funding from the Framework Programmes. There will be further opportunities to be involved in the consultation process with the commission and it is important that researchers in Ireland participate. Helping shape Horizon 2020 will provide Ireland with greater opportunities.

Conor O’Carroll is research director in the Irish Universities Association. See iua.ie