More than making do
On the upsides of efficiency
As the European Parliament and the Council of the EU discuss their position on the European Commission’s proposal for the Horizon Europe programme, tough choices have to be made. The budget of E100 billion for 2021-27 is large, but the general consensus is that it is not large enough to compete with the world’s biggest funders. The question is what should be prioritised, given that resources are scarce.
Research v innovation
Horizon has brought research and innovation together into one programme, but at its last meeting on 28 September, the council made it clear that it considers Horizon Europe a programme for research first and foremost.
By contrast, the commission has been particularly concerned that Europe is a global leader in the production of knowledge, but that it lags in innovation. This concern has driven the design of
Horizon Europe, which seeks to link research and innovation more closely. It is important, though, to strike a careful balance between the two: Europe must get better at innovation, but not at the expense of losing our position in the global production of knowledge.
Fundamental v applied science
At the public hearing in the European Parliament’s committee of industry, research and energy on 8 October, MEPs as well as public experts underlined that we cannot address big scientific challenges without fundamental research.
Commissioner Carlos Moedas himself recently stated that “fundamental science must be at the core of Europe’s future”, because nobody could predict the next big invention. Yet the text of Horizon Europe gives rise to some concerns. In the second pillar, “global challenges and industrial competitiveness”, will we focus on close-to-market solutions?
How strong will the focus on Europe’s industrial competitive- ness be versus addressing cuttingedge scientific questions? And when we see the introduction of research and innovation missions in Horizon Europe, which are firmly driven by a goal to reach an ambitious outcome, what will be the role of fundamental research?
For the success of missions as well as for addressing the Sustainable Development Goals, we need collaborative fundamental research to play a critical part.
Social sciences and the humanities (SSH) v STEM
The question for Horizon Europe is how SSH subjects can make a full contribution to addressing its thematic priorities.
First, Horizon Europe must take the challenges presented by the Sustainable Development Goals very seriously, and these challenges make it imperative that there is full participation of all disciplines.
Second, it will be important to demonstrate that, in addressing scientific challenges, Horizon Europe will make full use of the disciplinary range as appropriate, and that there are mechanisms to correct this if it does not happen. And finally, choices have to be made about the relative funding for each cluster in Horizon Europe. At a proposed € 2.8 billion (5.4 per cent of the second pillar), it must be asked whether the goal of creating inclusive societies is receiving enough attention.
One of the difficulties of engaging in the commission’s proposal is that so many of its core features – missions, the European Innovation Council, and the interdisciplinarity of clusters – are still barely defined.
The European Parliament and the Council would like to fasttrack a decision on Horizon Europe to provide certainty and send a signal that science and innovation is important for Europe’s future.
However, what are they actually approving when so many details are still to be decided?
The commission, in response, proposes a new way of establishing priorities for Horizon Europe, through a regular strategic programming process that would invite the public to participate. How that will work is yet to be announced. But in the decisionmaking and planning process, one priority must take centre stage: that Horizon Europe is informed by cutting-edge scientific questions, and that it empowers scientists to address these with the full range of our knowledge, across all relevant disciplines.