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8. EU aid and incentives

8.6. European Union Research and Innovation Programs

8.6.1. Horizon 2020

The EU has been approving successive multi-year programmes which set out the lines of action of the Community research and innovation policy, allocating considerable economic resources to their performance.

Currently the EU Research and Innovation Programme for the 2014-2020 period is called “Horizon 2020” and is regulated by Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 11 December 2013, as worded following the amendment made by Regulation (EU) No 1017/2015 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 25 June 2015.

The objective of the programme is to contribute to building a society and an economy based on knowledge and innovation across the Union mobilizing, for this purpose, financing aimed at attaining, over this period, a target of 3% of GDP used to promote research, development and innovation (R&D&I) throughout the EU.

This programme had a total budget of 74,828.3 million euros to finance research, technological development and innovation initiatives and projects with obvious European added value.

Horizon 2020 is based on three fundamental pillars:

  1. Excellent Science (with a budget of 24,232.1 million euros), with the target of raise the level of excellence in European basic science and to ensure a constant flow of quality research with a view to guaranteeing Europe’s long-term competitiveness. In order to reach this goal, it will receive support from the best ideas, with a view to developing talent within the Union. It also aims to ensure that researchers have access to priority research infrastructure, making Europe an attractive place for the best researchers in the world.

    It has four specific objectives:

    • Providing attractive and flexible funding through the European Research Council (ERC) to enable talented and creative individual researchers and their teams to pursue the most promising avenues at the frontier of science, on the basis of competition at Union level.
    • Supporting collaborative research through “Future and Emerging Technologies” in order to expand Europe’s capacity for advanced innovation capable of changing the established research paradigms, in particular, by fostering scientific collaboration across disciplines based on radically new, high-risk ideas, promoting not only the development of the most promising emerging areas of science and technology, but also the structuring of the scientific communities existing Union wide.
    • Providing, through Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) actions, excellent and innovative research training as well as attractive career and knowledge-exchange opportunities through cross-border and cross-sector mobility of researchers, all in order to prepare them to face optimally both current and future societal challenges.
    • Developing and supporting excellent European research infrastructures and assisting them to contribute to the European Research Area by fostering their innovation potential, attracting world-level researchers and training human capital, and complimenting these initiatives with the related Union policy and international cooperation.
  2. Industrial Leadership (with a budget of 16,466.5 million euros). This line has a twofold aim: (i) speeding up the development of the technologies and innovations which serve to create tomorrow’s businesses, and (ii) helping innovative SMEs to grow into world-leading companies. It has three specific lines:
    • Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies, provides specific support for research, development and demonstration (and, where appropriate, for standardization and certification), on information and communications technologies (ICTs), nanotechnology, advanced materials, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and processing and space. Emphasis is placed on the needs of users in all these fields, promoting enabling technologies able to be used in multiple sectors, industries and services.
    • Access to risk finance, aims to overcome deficits in the availability of debt and equity finance for R&D and innovation-driven companies and projects at all stages of development. Thus SMEs have available to them a group of financial intermediaries to which they may apply for capital, guarantees or counterguarantees for their R&D projects. The development of Union-level venture capital is also fostered with the equity instrument of the “Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs” (currently the COSME programme).
  3. Innovation in SMEs, provides tailored support to SMEs, with a view to stimulating all forms of innovation, targeting those with the potential to grow and internationalize across the single market and beyond. In particular, under the “Horizon 2020” programme at least 20% of the funding budgeted for the areas “Leadership in enabling and industrial technologies” and “Societal Challenges” is allocated to SMEs, which means that, throughout the period, approximately 7.6 billion euros was made available to them, distributed as follows:
    • 7% through the SME Instrument (a total of approximately 2.7 billion euros).
    • The remaining 13%, through the strategies of each Challenge or Technology where SMEs are involved in their “normal” collaborative projects, either with SME-targeted calls for applications or through more or less relevant topics, all of which Is aimed at encouraging SMEs to participate in projects.

    The “SME Instrument” is 3-phase scheme of funding aimed at supporting SMEs showing a strong ambition to grow, develop and internationalize, through an innovation project with a European dimension. The Programme has 3 phases which cover the complete innovation cycle:

    • Phase 1: Concept and assessment of feasibility (Optional): SMEs receive funding of €50,000 per project for an assessment of the scientific or technical feasibility and commercial potential of a new idea (concept test) in order to develop an innovative project. A positive result of this assessment will allow them to access funding through the following phases.

      This phase has a term of approximately 6 months.

    • Phase 2: R&D, demonstration and market replication: This phase supports Research and Development focused on demonstration activities (testing, prototype, scale-up studies, design, innovative processes, products and services, performance verification, etc.) and the analysis of their possible implementation and commercial development.

      The R&D projects selected could obtain funding of up to 2.5 million euros (although this amount could be increased up to 5 million euros for health-related biotechnology projects)

      This phase has an approximate term of between 1 and 2 years.
    • Phase 3: Commercializing: This phase does not provide direct funding (apart from support activities), but rather aims to facilitate access to private capital and to environments enabling innovation. Links are to be established with access to risk finance.

      Each phase is open to all SMEs and the transition between one phase and another is immediate, provided that evidence has been given of the need to receive additional funding based on the success of the previous phase.

    The SME Instrument has the following characteristics differentiating it from collaborative projects:

    • Each thematic or societal challenge of Horizon 2020 has at least one “topic” or theme for the SME Instrument with an open content in the context of each technology or societal challenge.
    • SMEs are the only ones able to apply for the aid, although projects may be submitted together with entities of any type, which may be subcontracted.
    • The formation of a previously-defined minimum consortium is not required. The SME is free to choose the consortium most suitable to its needs, and may even go it alone, but it is important to remember that European added value is a fundamental selection criteria.
    • It functions with various call dates per year submission deadlines per year, both for Phase 1 and for Phase 2.
    • SMEs which have received funding in Phases 1 and/or 2 will have priority access to the financial instruments made available under the “Access to Risk Finance” programme.
    • All SMEs participating in the SME Instrument will benefit from a coaching scheme associated with the Instrument.
    • A “Seal of Excellence” has been created to set apart projects which were evaluated as satisfactory but have not yet been able to access funding under the “SME Instrument”, and thus to provide them with access to other alternative sources of funding.
  4. Societal Challenges (with a budget of 28,629.6 million euros), aimed at researching the major issues affecting European citizens. This line of action focuses on the following six areas essential to achieve a better life:
    1. Health, demographic change and wellbeing.
    2. Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy.
    3. Secure, clean and efficient energy.
    4. Smart, green and integrated transport.
    5. Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials.
    6. Europe in a changing world: inclusive, innovative and reflective societies.
    7. Secure societies: protection of the freedom and security of Europe and its citizens.

    The focus of all activities must be based on responding to the challenges facing society, including basic or applied research, technology or innovation transfer, targeting political priorities without predetermining the technologies or solutions which will have to be developed. Emphasis is placed on bringing together a critical mass of resources and knowledge of different fields, technologies, scientific disciplines and research infrastructures in order to meet the challenges. The activities must cover the complete cycle, from research through to placement on the market, emphasizing activities relating to innovation, such as pilot projects, demonstration activities, testing banks, support for public contracting, design, innovation promoted by the end user, social innovation, technology transfer and assimilation of innovations by the market.

    Breakdown of the budget for "Horizon 2020"
    I-Excellent science, of which:24,232.1
    1.-European Research Council (ERC).13,094.8
    2.-Future and Emerging Technologies (FET).2,585.4
    3.-Marie Sklodowska Curie actions.6,162.3
    4.-Research infraestructures.2,389.6
    II-Industrial leadership, of which:16,466.5
    1.-Leadership in enabling industrial enabling and industrial technologies.13,035
    2.-Access to risk finance.2,842.3
    3.-SME innovation.589.2
    III-Reto de la sociedad, de los cuales:28,629.6
    1.-Health, demographic change and wellbeing.7,256.7
    2.-Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy.3,707.7
    3.-Secure, clean and efficient energy.5,688.1
    4.-Smart, green and integrated transport.6,149.4
    5.-Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials.2,956.5
    6.-Europe in a changing world - inclusive, innovative and reflective. societies.1,258.5
    7.-Secure societies – protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens.1,612.7
    IV.-Spreading excellence and widening participation.816.5
    V.-Science with and for society.444.9
    VI.-Non-nuclear direct actions of the Joint Research Centre (JRC).1,855.7
    VII.-The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).2,383
    Source: Annex II “Breakdown of the Budget” of Regulation 1291/2013.

With respect to funding, most of the activities are instrumented as competitive tenders in “Horizon 2020” managed by the European Commission with pre-established priorities in the respective working programmes which are previously published.

The calls for proposals have, in general, fixed launch and closing dates (generally comprising between three and four months)20 and can refer to a certain priority and/or area of action of “Horizon 2020”.

Based on these premises, the Working Programme of “Horizon 2020” approved by the Commission for 2018-2020 has focused its interest on the following priorities:

  • Increased investment in R&D for sustainable development and climate.
  • Integrated digitalization in all technological industries.
  • Strengthening of international cooperation in R&D.
  • Cybersecurity.
  • A boost, through the creation of the appropriate framework, for the creation of new markets resulting from new digital technologies and new business models.

The approval of this Program entailed the startup of the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council, endowed with 2.7 billion euros and comprising the calls for aid applications of the SME Instrument. This Program is characterized by having a topical focus that is totally open, of Rapid Access to Innovation and of FET Open, in addition to various awards.

Another new feather is the introduction of a pilot program for the financing of projects with a fixed amount, changing the focus of the financial control to the scientific-technical contents of the projects. This pilot has focused on two topics, one, on Health and the other on NMPB - nanotechnologies, advanced materials, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing and processing.

In general, any European enterprise, university, research center or legal entity that wishes to develop a R&D&I project, provided that its content is consistent with the lines and priorities stipulated in any of the pillars of “Horizon 2020” may participate in the calls.

To be able to participate in most of the actions included in this programme, it is developed through consortium projects, which must involve at least three independent legal entities, each one established in a different EU Member State or associated state.

Nonetheless certain exceptions are provided, such as (i) research initiatives “on the frontiers of knowledge” of the European Research Council (ERC); (ii) coordination and support initiatives and (iii) mobility and training initiatives, in which legal entities or individuals can participate on an individual basis.

In any case, the working plans or programmes under the calls for proposals may stipulate terms additional to those mentioned above, depending on the nature and objectives of the initiative in question.

Lastly, in order to apply for funding for any R&D&I project a proposal must be submitted in a previously published call for proposals. Calls for proposals, as well as all documents related thereto, in which submission deadlines and forms are indicated, are posted on the participant portal made available on the website of the European Commission, through which participants can access to the electronic system for submitting proposals.

Normally a potential participant in “Horizon 2020” has two forms of taking part in a proposal: (i) based on his own idea (either as coordinator of the project or by participating individually in the instruments which so permit); or, on the contrary, (ii) by participating in a consortium led by a third party.

Schematically, the basic steps to take from the time the idea arises until the project becomes a reality would be:

For more information on “Horizon 2020” as well as on the calls for proposals, please check the Participant Portal and the “Horizon 2020” online manual posted on the website of the European Commission (http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/funding/index.html).

The European Commission is already preparing the next European Union Investment and Innovation Program, which will be known as “Horizon 2021-2017”. This Program has a budget of approximately 100 billion euros, and is structured around three pillars: (i) excellent science; (ii) global challenges and European industrial competitiveness; and (iii) innovative Europe.

8.6.2. Other Research and Innovation Programmes

Parallel to “Horizon 2020”, the European Commission also extends R&D&I funding opportunities through other additional programmes of significance in the context of the European Research and Innovation Strategy.

This section includes two programmes with differentiated objectives and targets.

Specifically, the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) programme, initiated in 1971 and one of the oldest European framework programmes supporting cooperation among scientists in all of Europe in different areas of research, and the EURATOM, (European Atomic Energy Community) programme, which arose under the Treaty of the same name, with a view to coordinating the research programmes of Member States in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

  • COST Program

    The COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) programme is the first, and one of the largest, intergovernmental network for the coordination of scientific and technical research at European level, and currently involves 38 countries and Israel as a cooperating State. It also has a multitude of reciprocity agreements (including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, the US, China, Japan and South Africa).

    The programme is targeted at researchers who work (i) in universities and research centers, regardless of size, both public and private, in any of the 38 COST countries or Israel; (ii) in any technological or scientific field; and (iii) provided that they have an original and innovative idea.

    Its objective is to strengthen scientific and technical research in Europe, financing the establishment of cooperation and interaction networks between researchers who organize themselves around a specific scientific objective.

    The programme functions through networks known as COST Actions, which are established at the initiative of researchers without pre-defined thematic priorities. At least seven participants from different COST countries must join together in order to apply for an Action, at least four of which must be from COST Inclusiveness Target Countries.

    The projects selected will receive funding for activities previously established in the joint working programme – with a four-year term – from among the following:

    • Scientific meetings of working groups.
    • Workshops and seminars.
    • Short-term Scientific Missions (STSMs).
    • Training workshops and scientific conferences.
    • Dissemination publications and activities.

    COST calls for proposals are permanently open, with two submission deadlines per year (spring and autumn). The procedure for selection and grant of aid is carried out in accordance with the following scheme.

    Spain is one of the countries which is most active in COST, since it is present in more than 300 actions, approximately, which makes it number three in the ranking of countries with the highest number of participants.

    The representative of Spain in the COST program (delegate in the committee of senior officials, CSO, and COST National Coordinator, CNC) is the Ministry of Science and Innovation through the Subdirectorate-General of International Relations.

  • EURATOM program

    EURATOM energy research activities are carried out under the treaty with the same name, which in 1957 established the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). EURATOM is legally separated from the European Community and has its own Framework Research and Training Programme, that is managed by the common Community institutions and regulated in Council Regulation (Euratom) 2018/1563 of 15 October 2018 on the Research and Training Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (2019–2020) complementing the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

    Although Member States retain most competencies in energy policy, whether based on nuclear or other sources, the EURATOM Treaty has achieved an important degree of harmonization at European level. It legislates for a number of specific tasks for the management of nuclear resources and research activities.

    The general Objective of the EURATOM programme, with a budget of €770,220,000 for the full period (2014-2020) is to pursue nuclear research and training activities with an emphasis on continuous improvement of nuclear safety, security and radiation protection, all with a view to contributing to the long-term decarbonization of the energy system in a safe, efficient and secure way.

    This objective is implemented through:

    • Indirect actions targeted as:
      • Supporting safety of nuclear systems.
      • Contributing to the development of safe, long-term solutions for the management of ultimate nuclear waste.
      • Supporting the development and sustainability of nuclear expertise and excellence in the Union.
      • Supporting radiation protection and development of medical applications of radiation
      • Moving towards demonstration of feasibility of fusion as a power source.
      • Laying the foundations for future fusion power plants.
      • Promoting innovation and industrial competitiveness.
      • Insuring availability and use of research infrastructures of pan-European relevance.
    • Direct actions focused on:
      • Improving nuclear safety.
      • Improving nuclear security.
      • Increasing excellence in the nuclear science base for standardization.
      • Fostering knowledge management, education and training.
      • Supporting the policy of the Union on nuclear safety and security.

    EURATOM is a Program supplementary to “Horizon 2020” since both have the same rules on participation. Under “Horizon 2020” there is also a possibility of carrying out trans-actions within the EURATOM programme and between the EURATOM programme and “Horizon 2020” through co-funding and externalization.

20 Aware of the difficulties resulting from the situation created by the COVID-19 public health crisis across Europe, the Commission has extended the closing dates for the submission of proposals linked to calls for proposals that would normally have closed between March and April of this year. Furthermore, in connection with any projects benefitting from the Horizon 2020 program now being implemented, in which any projected action cannot be taken due to the public health crisis, the possibility of claiming the existence of force majeure and its effects can now be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.