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together around such demonstrators, after which hopefully others

will follow.”

Victims of success

Within the first six months of 2015, nearly 4,000 projects have

received funding from the Commission under Horizon 2020. Over

45,000 research applications were received by the Commission

between December 2013 and March 2015, including more than

17,000 during the first seven months, nine times the available funding.

Brussels has been pleased with the high participation rate, but figures

also reveal a low success rate for applicants, averaging around 14%

for Horizon 2020, compared to 19-22% for the Seventh Framework

Programme. Smits said the situation was “the biggest problem” that

he faces.

“We have put enormous attention on Horizon 2020 simplification by

inserting a lot of measures to really make it much easier for applicants

to have access to the programme. In addition, with our Participant Portal,

we have a quicker time to grant and simpler application forms with

everything now being electronic.

“Yet we are now becoming the victims of our success – we are flooded

with proposals and up to now we have received around 50,000. The

success rate in certain areas has now dropped to 12%, and that is

extremely worrying. These results show that we have been successful

with our simplification efforts, because the barriers to the programme

have been reduced. It also indicates that we are getting it right with our

challenge-based approach, as Horizon 2020 steps away from the

thematic approach. The SME Instrument is also very popular, because we

see that 20% of the applicants now are new commerce, mostly SMEs.

“So whilst we are successful on the one hand, we are facing a huge

oversubscription on the other. This is not sustainable and the fear is that

if the success rate is lower than 10%, researchers may be discouraged

in making applications. The aim is therefore to increase success rates

and consequently we are increasingly introducing a two-stage application

“Recently, the Danish Environmental Protection

Agency published a report which showed that

over the last 15-20 years, EU legislation in the

field of the environment has not only led to a

better quality of life with lower air pollution,

but that there have been benefits for

competitiveness and the creation of jobs.

Nature-based solutions offer enormous

potential for new jobs, for economic growth, for

SMEs, and for all stakeholders to get together.”

Evaluation to resolution

Whereas EU policy has traditionally been

concentrating on collecting data concerning the

impact citizens and industry have on the

environment, Smits observed that there had

now been a step change that sees greater

emphasis on developing solutions to help

protect the environment.

“We have a long tradition in our environment

programme focusing only on data collection,

with hardly any priority on real remedies. We

now have a big break with the past and are

looking for concrete solutions, or are using data

analysis to undertake problem-solving activities.

“Whilst we are continuing to collect data,

because this remains essential, we are going

to really invest in bringing solutions to the

citizen. Consequently, Nature-based solutions

is an area where we are going to devote

significant financial resources in the years

ahead under Horizon 2020, including the next

calls and notably under the 2016-2017 Work

Programme, because we really want to have

demonstrations of Nature-based solutions.

“At the Green Week workshop, we focused very

much on the issue of flooding. Each year we

read about flooding in the UK, Italy, Hungary,

etc., and how with Nature-based solutions we

can find an approach to address this issue, for

example through the creation of natural basins.

But Nature-based solutions are also about the

greening of cities and deserts, agriculture in the

cities, and finding new ways to cool buildings

through plants.

“Consequently, we really want to see and

finance large scale demonstrators that show

Nature-based solutions can work, and see

groups of stakeholders and countries get

H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L




The importance of


solutions in tackling

climate change was

emphasised during

Green Week 2015

© Picography