The negotiations on Horizon Europe have entered the hot phase. In particular, the conditions for the association of non-EU Member States and non-EEA countries (states such as Switzerland, Israel or the UK that are associated under Horizon 2020 as well as third countries outside of Europe such as Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea etc.) must now be finalised. The European Framework Programmes for research and innovation have gradually gained in importance. A genuine European internal market that transcends the borders of the European Union has been established in the field of research and innovation. An interim evaluation of the programme as well as numerous success stories clearly show that Horizon 2020 has developed into a highly successful programme with demonstrable benefits. Building on this, Horizon Europe will continue to support the entire research and innovation cycle in Europe, i.e. beyond the borders of the European Union, and, with the association of third countries from outside Europe, it will have a global impact as well.
In view of the numerous geopolitical, social, ecological and economic challenges as well as the current COVID-19 situation, the importance of an agile cross-border research and innovation landscape in Europe is coming to the fore more than ever before. Concrete developments such as climate change require scientifically sound solutions, but prosperity on the European continent also depends largely on the innovative strength of its companies, universities and research institutions. The best means to achieve this are ERC grants and international consortia open to organisations from non-EU member states for which the ‘pay-as-you-go’ model is applied.
In addition, from the perspective of a university of science and technology, the extent to which the Horizon Europe programme should target top-down specific areas in which Europe could become a global centre of research and innovation excellence is another important aspect. If this targeting is implemented, it should be embedded in an overall balanced allocation of funding to bottom-up and top-down programmes. Research excellence should focus on frontier top research outcomes, which will support the spurring of innovation. The spill-over effects of fundamental research and its impact on economic growth have been shown in a variety of studies. The emphasis of the Horizon Europe programme should therefore be on high-impact publications and patents that are sufficiently novel to push the frontier. To ensure the effectiveness of the missions, projects and fellowships to be realised under the Horizon Europe programme, it is essential to systematically embed research excellence in every respect. This means in particular that all the pillars of the Horizon Europe programme should be open for the participation of the world’s leading universities, research organisations and research-intensive companies regardless of their location.
The international openness as well as the sound balance between fundamental and targeted research activities within the Horizon Europe programme will be decisive for its success!
Detlef Günther (Vice President for Research, ETH Zurich)