3,5 years at the core of Horizon Europe – preparing the future

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3,5 years at the core of Horizon Europe – preparing the future.

Julien Guerrier

As Director of the Common Policy Centre (CPC) for Horizon Europe at the European Commission, my gaze has been fixed on Europe’s future to ensure that EU investment into Research and Innovation makes a difference for science, for Europe’s competitiveness and for society at large. On 1 September 2023 – I will begin a new chapter by taking up the role as the EU Ambassador-designate to Vietnam, and as I look at the horizon of what’s to come, I would also like to reflect on the various achievements and milestones over the course of these past 3,5 years at the core of Horizon Europe.

Innovating in the way we work

We launched Horizon Europe with a clear long-term vision to deliver the green and digital transitions and a more resilient Europe, with an increased budget of 30% in constant prices compared to its predecessor, Horizon 2020, and a reinforced impact orientation. This included the launch of the EU Missions and the European Innovation Council, but also continued support to the European Research Council and European Partnerships. In times of the COVID-19 pandemic, European research and innovation investments were recognised as the backbone of a more sustainable future, reinforcing our capacity to react faster and better to immediate crises and to cope with longer-term challenges.

To deliver on our ambition, we had to innovate in our working practices and developed an innovative governance with a whole-of-government approach, involving more broadly and from the early stages all players in the Horizon Europe cycle, from the definition of policy needs to the wider dissemination and exploitation of results. This is supported by a reinforced integration of EU priorities and policies into our Horizon Europe programming, helping us to deliver solutions in line with the needs. This approach has worked and delivered more coherent and impactful Work Programmes.

In the spring of 2021, we drafted and adopted the first ever co-created Strategic Plan for 2021-2024. As a new addition within Horizon Europe, the Strategic Plan supports the translation of EU priorities into the Work Programmes – ensuring more efficient and targeted use of R&I funding. In parallel, we steered the co-creation of the two ‘main’ Work Programmes for Horizon Europe covering the years 2021-2024, committing more than EUR 29 billion of funds of the EUR 95.5 billion Horizon Europe budget. We are on track towards the target of 35% of funds contributing to climate action; and more than 7.5% to biodiversity related policy objectives.

When Russia’s war on Ukraine broke out, we once more demonstrated the flexibility and reactivity of European R&I policy, as we swiftly amended the work programme 2021-2022 to exclude Russian entities and to support Ukrainian researchers.

Together, we co-created within Commission’s services and engaged with Member States and stakeholders more broadly. We launched the biggest ever public consultation on the past, present and future of the Framework Programmewe received close to 2800 replies responses and hundreds of position papers – demonstrating the great interest of stakeholders in EU R&I programmes. The responses to the public consultation fed into the Strategic Plan Analysis, the ex-post evaluation of Horizon 2020 and the Horizon Europe interim evaluation. We also had a citizens’ engagement workshop in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe. This allowed citizens and stakeholders to have a greater say in shaping our common future.

The work we also do on foresight and economic analysis enables us to make strategic decisions and adjustments to R&I policy. It also allows us to appreciate the consequences of disruptive events such as the COVID-19 crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Targeted support to address our most pressing challenges

With Horizon Europe we have also innovated with our instruments, revamping our approach to partnerships and launching the first ever EU Missions to address Europe’s most pressing challenges.

We supported a more strategic, coherent and impact-focused preparation of European Partnerships to ensure they support cooperation between academia and industry. These include 12 institutionalised partnerships, which were subject to coordinated impact assessments and for which the legal acts were adopted by the end of 2021, and a set of co-funded and co-programmed partnerships. A second wave of such partnerships is under preparation with the same focus on impact orientation. We also published the first Biennial Monitoring Report on European Partnerships, which provides a strong evidence base to guide the implementation of European Partnerships, and co-organised the first Partnerships Stakeholder Forum covering all forms of partnerships. 

The EU Missions have supported the development of EU policies and programmes, such as European Green Deal, the European Climate Pact, the Beating Cancer Plan, the LIFE programme and the EU Soil Strategy.  There has also been remarkable innovation in the variety of new means to achieve the delivery of the Missions, many of these involving working at local levels and with the support of citizens such as: dedicated platforms for implementation; Manifestos and Charters to allow stakeholders to pledge support; as well as devices such as Living Labs and Lighthouses which enable diffusion, uptake and social innovation with stakeholders becoming innovators.

It is a great satisfaction for us all to see EU Missions gaining such momentum, reflected in the Commission Communication on the EU Missions review adopted on 19 July 2023.

Prowess leads to excellence

To ensure our current and future decisions are well informed and grounded on evidence, we are running large scale evaluations of the programme and reinforce constantly our monitoring system to best track progress over time. We also have performed economic and statistical analysis on a wide set of topics to support our policy initiatives. These were, together with foresight work and a gap analysis of Framework Programme investments, at the core of the preparation of the analysis for the Second Strategic Plan of Horizon Europe, which was published in May 2023, based on a wide cooperation across Commission services.

We published the biennial Science, research and innovation performance of the EU (SRIP) report, as well as a set of papers in the R&I paper series, for example on the implications for R&I policy of the COVID-19 crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the complexity of technologies, and papers from the expert group on economic and societal impact of research and innovation (ESIR) to inform our actions for the transitions. Last but not least, we also published several editions of the European and Regional Innovation Scoreboards, always eagerly awaited by Member States and regions.

We issued targeted Monitoring Flashes to shed light on the performance of Horizon on the go, with publications on our support to COVID-19 research and to IPCC work, but also on newcomers to the programme and SMEs participation.

The Common Policy Centre has been instrumental in supporting an impact and policy driven budget management for Horizon Europe, by steering the co-creation of the Union’s annual draft budgets. This allowed us to ensure fast reactions to emerging financing needs related to political priorities, such as in the case of the COVID-19 crisis, or for the European Chips Act.

Shaping the future together

Looking back at all these achievements, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the wonderful people that I have worked alongside during these past 3,5 years. These achievements would never have been possible without their commitment to the European project and their relentless efforts to ensure Horizon Europe fosters real progress towards a Europe that remains a leading powerhouse in science and innovation. A Europe that is greener and more sustainable. A Europe that inspires and leads on the global stage.



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