What's on the Horizon for the ERC?
Horizon Europe, an ambitious 100 billion EUR research and innovation programme for 2021 to 2027 was recently proposed by the European Commission. To see what this will mean for the ERC, we interviewed Carlos Moedas, the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.
Why do we need a revised R&I funding programme?
With growing international competition, research and innovation plays a vital role in ensuring Europe's future prosperity and the wellbeing of our citizens. The EU's current research and innovation programme "Horizon 2020" is a European success story and well on track to contribute significantly to the creation of jobs and growth. The proposed new Horizon Europe programme will build on this success. It aims to boost our capacity to support innovation, particularly through the creation of a new European Innovation Council, while preserving fundamental science by increasing its funding.
From the point of view of the ERC, how will this funding programme compare to the last?
From the current Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe, it's more an evolution rather than a revolution. There will therefore be a strong degree of continuity from the ERC's perspective because excellence will remain at the core of the programme. We will change as little as possible in terms of rules and procedures for participation, as far as the ERC is concerned.
Is Europe going to keep investing in fundamental science?
The answer is a resounding yes. In ten short years, the ERC has become a powerhouse of science. It is recognised as the best in the world in the way it supports fundamental research. I've said before that I consider the ERC as a jewel in the EU research crown. The ERC will therefore benefit from the biggest single budget line in Horizon Europe: 16.6 bn EUR for 2021 to 2027, compared to the current 13.1 bn EUR allocated from 2014 to 2020. This represents an increase of 2.5 bn EUR.
Will the 'curiosity-driven' approach to blue sky research continue?
In view of the 'bottom-up', investigator-driven nature of the ERC, the European scientific community will continue to play a strong role. Horizon Europe will mean continuity of the current arrangements, including the central role of the ERC's independent Scientific Council.
How do you see the ERC interacting with other parts of Horizon Europe?
I see plenty of scope for synergies between the different pillars of the new programme. For example, we have proposed the introduction of ambitious new missions for EU research as a means of reengaging citizens and addressing big societal and economic challenges. Without calling into question the ERC's bottom-up approach to the selection of research projects, I am sure that many of your grantees will come up with results that will be extremely relevant for the future missions. Another example is the ERC's Proof of Concept (PoC) grants, which have already showed impressive results in terms of business creation and marketable ideas. Personally, I would be delighted if some of the ERC's PoC grantees went on to develop their ground-breaking ideas with support from the future European Innovation Council.
What are the next steps?
A swift agreement on the overall long-term EU budget and the new Horizon Europe programme is essential to ensure that EU funds start delivering results on the ground as soon as possible. Delays would force Europe's brightest minds to look for opportunities elsewhere. I very much hope that we will be able to reach an agreement early enough in 2019 to allow a smooth transition between the current Horizon 2020 programme and the new Horizon Europe programme.
You recently announced the committee to conduct the search for the next president of the ERC. What role will he or she play in Horizon Europe?
The next ERC President will take office in 2020 and oversee the transition to Horizon Europe. As Chair of the Scientific Council, the ERC President plays a key role so it is important to appoint the right person. He or she needs to be a prominent figure of European science, able to defend the case for frontier research in Europe and to communicate effectively. A major part of the success of the ERC since 2007 has been because it has been steered by an independent Scientific Council in charge of the overall scientific strategy. This helps to guarantee the effectiveness of the ERC’s scientific programme, the quality of its operations and peer-review process and its credibility in the scientific community. Mario Monti has been designated to chair a search committee of seven experts that will make recommendations to me in time for the next ERC President to take up duties on 1 January 2020, as successor to the current president, Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon.