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Professor Alain Beretz


League of European

Research Universities (LERU)


he LERU member universities have been active participants of

the European framework programmes for research (and

innovation). Through the active contribution of its members, LERU

has been very much engaged in Horizon 2020 from the programme’s

outset. In general we are pleased with how H2020 turned out. A great

deal of progress has been made compared to the programme’s

predecessor FP7, especially regarding simplification. We are particularly

pleased with the single reimbursement rate and the flat rate for indirect

costs. The introduction of many e-tools has also been very helpful. These

are just two examples of what was changed for the better; others can

easily be found.

When launching the online simplification survey in September 2015,

Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas stated that simplification is and

should be a continuous endeavour. We couldn’t agree more. In December

2014, LERU shared its first analysis of the processes governing H2020

proposal submissions and grant management with the European

Commission, and it was without any doubt that LERU renewed and

enlarged that analysis to contribute an extensive and detailed response

to the simplification survey – ‘KISS Horizon 2020 – Keep it Simple and

Straightforward’, which was published on 23 October and can be found

on the LERU website.

Simplification is, however, not the only aspect of H2020 LERU has

engaged in or is concerned with. The integration of social sciences and

humanities (SSH) throughout the different H2020 funding streams for

collaborative research has been one of the major aspects of the

programme we have been least happy with. Too often the focus is on

the technological response to societal challenges, and SSH are purely

added as a market check for a new technology. The 2016-2017 work

programmes are a step in the right direction, but a lot more could and

should be done. It is especially important that the European Commission

realises that many of today’s problems require much more than a new

technology for finding durable solutions. Basic research, including SSH

disciplines, is very much needed to find innovative and less obvious

answers. In particular, SSH research studies the human aspects of the

world whilst generating new knowledge that has a deep, intrinsic value

and is of vital importance to Europe’s future.

This brings me to another key point, namely the necessity for continuing

to invest in frontier, blue sky research. Europe, meaning both the

European Commission but also the member states, is moving away from

investing in this type of research, focusing much more on research that

is already heading in a specific direction, mostly towards marketable

outcomes. However, the most innovative products or solutions are very

often the result of an unexpected utilisation of research findings which

were not looking for that solution at all. Investing now in frontier research

is key for future innovations. The Excellent Science pillar – with the

European Research Council (ERC), Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

(MSCA) and Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) – is doing an

excellent job. There is, however, a lack of support for collaborative, blue

sky research not aiming directly at technological outcomes in the other

two pillars of H2020. Focusing on short term projects with narrow,

practical objectives and easily applicable research results is, for Europe,

a dangerous trend. In this respect, we highly resent that funding of the

European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) budget has implied cuts

from the H2020 budget. This can only lead to a weakening of Europe’s

research potential, rather than adding EFSI as a complementary tool to

this programme.

For Horizon 2020 to realise its ambitious goals, we ask for more courage

from European policy makers. We want policy makers that are willing to

safeguard H2020 from budget cuts such as those resulting from EFSI,

which should most certainly remain an exception. LERU is very pleased

with the European Parliament’s strong support of the H2020 budget but

hopes that the member states, and especially their finance ministers,

will also realise (and consequently act upon) the importance of investing

in research, innovation and education, not only at EU level but at member

state level, too. As we have shown with the publication of our report on

the economic contribution of LERU universities in September 2015,

financing research-intensive universities is not an expense but an

investment that pays off. If Europe is to become a world-leading

knowledge society, it is this type of investment that is necessary.

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