Launch of Horizon 2020 / London
31 January 2014

Minister Willetts, Sir Paul, Commissioner Vassiliou,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be in London today for the official launch in the United Kingdom of Horizon 2020.

And I am also very pleased to be sharing the platform with two leading lights in British science policy, who are advocates of the advantages of European cooperation in research, innovation and science.

The Commission attaches huge importance to Horizon 2020 as a flagship programme to generate growth and jobs. I am pleased to be joined today by Commissioner Vassiliou who will talk to you about the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the Marie Skłodowska Curie actions, both of which will be funded by Horizon 2020.

I hope that what you have heard today about Horizon 2020 has whetted your appetite for the programme. I am relying on you to spread the word about Horizon 2020 and to encourage your networks and colleagues to participate very actively.

I say this because I am convinced that Horizon 2020 will only reach its full potential with the active involvement of British universities, companies, SMEs and research organisations.

Horizon 2020 had a long gestation. But right from the beginning, there were several things that I was very keen to do.

I was determined to make it much easier to access European funding for research and innovation. I also wanted the programme to focus not on specific scientific disciplines but on solving the major challenges for our society.

Another of the major reforms in Horizon 2020, compared to the Framework Programmes, is that it funds innovation as well as research.

Indeed, Horizon 2020 provides support from lab to market. This major change makes it more important than ever to have more businesses participating.

Let me start by telling you that designing Horizon 2020, and steering it towards approval by the Member States and the EU institutions, has been a truly collaborative effort.

I am pleased that some of the people that were instrumental in delivering Horizon 2020 are here today.

Without the UK at the table, Horizon 2020 might have looked very different indeed.

We have a programme that has cut red-tape, where excellence is the benchmark and where we champion both top quality fundamental research, which the UK does so well, and its application in innovation, where the UK is also a leader.

That happened because the UK was there, in the thick of negotiations, making its voice heard.

I’d especially like to thank David Willetts for his crucial support for the Commission’s position on simplification at a difficult moment in the discussions between Member States.

The European Parliament has also been a staunch supporter of what we want to achieve with Horizon 2020.

I’d like to thank the Parliament for its cooperation during the negotiation process, and in particular Vicky Ford, who was the shadow rapporteur on the rules for participation and dissemination of Horizon 2020.

But I was most impressed and thankful for the public support from the most important stakeholders: the scientists and innovators that will be taking part in the projects.

The open letter published in October 2012 by many Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners was great ammunition for our cause.

Tim Hunt, together with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard; mobilised the dozens of scientists – including Sir Paul Nurse – who put their names to a spirited defence of EU research funding, which they declared was “capable of achieving essential benefits for European science as well as increasing returns to society and raising international competitiveness”.

As a politician I know how difficult it is to argue against so many eminent scientists, and I am sure that this high-profile intervention helped ensure that EU funding for research received a major boost.

In fact, with close to 80 billion euro of funding over seven years, Horizon 2020 is one of the few areas of the EU’s new budget to see a major increase in resources.

I am determined that this additional money – around 30% more than FP7’s budget in real terms – will be invested as wisely and efficiently as possible.

With their track record in research and innovation, the involvement of UK participants will certainly help raise the level of excellence in Horizon 2020.

But let me pose a very blunt question: Does the UK need Horizon 2020?

Yes, it does, and I will give you three reasons why.

First, on the basis of past performance, UK researchers and companies are primed to do very well out of Horizon 2020. As you all know, Horizon 2020 funding is allocated to the very best proposals with no national quotas. Because it has an outstanding science base, the UK has been remarkably successful in winning funding from the 7th Framework Programme.

Take basic research, for example. The budget for European Research Council grants for top scientists is being increased by nearly 60 percent to 13 billion euro.

Since 2007, UK institutions have hosted an astonishing 962 ERC grantees – more than one in five of the total. If the ERC is the Champions League of EU research, then UK teams are at the top of the table!

Looking at the 7th Framework Programme as a whole, UK bodies have received over 6 billion Euro, that’s more than 15% of the total budget, much more than the 11% of the EU budget that the UK contributes.

And UK organisations have been going from strength to strength. For the contracts signed in 2012 and 2013, the UK is in top position, and has overtaken Germany as the country receiving the most funding with more than one billion euro each year.

The UK’s excellent research system is a massive national asset and it is increasingly dependent on EU funding. The Vice Chancellor of one of Britain’s top universities told me that while EU funding used to be an added bonus, now it is absolutely essential for their research with European funding accounting for 10 to 20 per cent of their research income. The situation is similar for many other UK universities.

The second reason is that Horizon 2020 is not just about the money! No country today can be a research leader without a dense web of connections to centres of excellence in many parts of the world, including Europe.

Research and innovation are global endeavours and it will be clear at least to this audience that the UK cannot go it alone. Horizon 2020 is through and through an international programme, fully open to the participation of partners from outside Europe.

And because Horizon 2020’s selection pool is bigger, competition for European funding is greater. Winning so much of it hugely enhances the international profile of UK universities and helps attract top researchers to the UK.

The third reason why the UK needs Horizon 2020 is because it has been designed to boost growth and jobs.

Horizon 2020 comes at a critical moment. There are encouraging signs of economic recovery in the UK, which is fantastic news.

But the UK, like the rest of Europe, still has work to do to ensure that economic recovery is sustainable. That means growth based on innovative products and services that can compete in global markets. Action at EU level – including Horizon 2020 – can complement the steps that you are taking.

Horizon 2020 will do more than any previous EU programme to support innovation. It will provide support at every step of the journey from “lab to market” and will offer companies many opportunities to take part. You have heard today about these innovative elements of Horizon 2020, such as the new SME instrument, the Public-Private Partnerships, and the financial instruments.

In addition, more money is available for testing, prototyping, demonstration and pilot type activities, for business-driven R&D, for promoting entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and for shaping demand for innovative products and services.

Horizon 2020 is also investing in key enabling technologies including ICT, nanotechnology, materials and production technology. These are among what David Willetts calls the ‘eight great technologies’. Indeed, Horizon 2020 will be supporting all these technologies.

More than this, Horizon 2020 will help support the development of the Single Market for innovative products and services. The Single Market is a huge asset for Europe, and companies need to know that if they develop new technologies, there will be a big, integrated, European market into which they can sell them.

This means putting in place – as quickly as possible – the right regulations and standards, commonly agreed at EU level. All of these require research, for example to define new technical standards or to provide a robust scientific evidence base for regulatory decisions.

As David Willetts has pointed out, the Single Market needs to be pro-innovation and the UK participation in this process will benefit innovators everywhere.
As well as supporting the UK in its own efforts to improve its economy through research, innovation and entrepreneurship, Horizon 2020 can also support you in tackling a broad range of societal challenges.

It is here that the ‘European added value’ of Horizon 2020 can make all the difference. Most of our societal challenges are global challenges and addressing them requires global collaboration. By making it easier for the best researchers to work together, regardless of borders, we can get bigger, world-changing impacts and better results for taxpayers’ money.

Complex problems like climate change, energy and food security can’t be solved by one country alone. We need the best people working on them, wherever they are, and we will need solutions that draw upon many different areas of research and innovation. That’s why interdisciplinarity is such a crucial aspect of Horizon 2020.

We will encourage researchers to get out of their silos, and we expect broader societal questions to be addressed by embedding the Socio-Economic Science and Humanities in all of the societal challenges and enabling technologies under Horizon 2020.

In the first Horizon 2020 work programme some two hundred topics explicitly identify social science and humanities aspects. That represents over one third of all the topics under the societal challenges and the enabling technologies.

This morning I was delighted to attend the official inauguration of the European Social Survey as a European Research Infrastructure Consortia. This consortium will be hosted at City University here in London and has the commitment of fourteen other countries.

This will allow the European Social Survey to continue building valuable data for researchers and policy makers on trends in Europeans’ social, political and cultural attitudes.

Horizon 2020 won’t shy away from policy issues that are at the top of the agenda and that demand a firm evidence base, such as security, migration or climate change.

Nor are we ignoring issues concerning the role of science in our society. We are addressing difficult and emotive questions such as the use of stem cells. I think that Horizon 2020’s approach on this issue shows that we can find balanced solutions at European level that satisfy divergent positions.

It is also important that the programme helps to close the research and innovation gaps between the different EU Member States.

The new twinning and teaming actions as well as the ERA Chairs initiative aim to strengthen the scientific excellence and innovation capacities of emerging institutions in those countries which are not yet fully exploiting their research and innovation potential.

I expect institutions in leading countries, including of course the UK, to play an important and active role in these new measures, as advanced partners in the teaming and twinning actions.

Since I became the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, I have been particularly concerned about the lack of women in research and innovation. This is a waste of talent that we simply cannot afford.

I know that the UK shares the Commission’s concerns, and is taking action through initiatives like the Athena SWAN Charter and Awards to tackle gender inequalities and the unequal representation of women in science academia.

Horizon 2020 will also play its part in redressing the balance on gender. Our approach is entirely excellence-based and will work in three ways.

First, by integrating the gender dimension into the different programmes and projects that constitute Horizon 2020. For example, the first Horizon 2020 work programme identifies a whole range of topics where the gender dimension of the project is flagged as important.

Second, by encouraging a balanced participation of women and men in the research teams that are funded. Indeed, we have included a specific provision on this in the model grant agreement for Horizon 2020.

And third, by ensuring a gender balance and good gender expertise both in the expert groups that advise on the priorities for Horizon 2020, and in the teams that evaluate the applications for funding. For example, if you look at the membership of the high-level Advisory Groups that have been established for Horizon 2020 you will see that over fifty percent of the members are women.

We will be paying particular attention to expertise on interdisciplinarity, gender and innovation in the selection of evaluators for proposals. Those evaluators will soon be very busy: we published our first calls for projects on 11 December, setting out some 15 billion euro of funding opportunities over this year and next.

Given the UK success rate under the 7th Framework Programme, I expect UK researchers and businesses to win up to two billion pounds over the next two years. This is a vital injection of cash into world class research and innovation in the UK, in particular given that domestic funding for science is static.

So my challenge today to UK researchers, universities, large and small businesses and others is to apply to the programme.

The competition will be tough, but the UK stands to benefit enormously.

I have no doubt that UK researchers and innovators will very active, at the heart of Horizon 2020.

That will be good for the UK and good for Europe.

Thank you.


Source: European Union press release, 31/01/2014