In June, the European Commission presented its proposal on Horizon Europe, the next programme for research and innovation to follow the current Horizon 2020. As part of the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, Horizon Europe has a proposed budget of EUR 100 billion, making it the “most ambitious research and innovation programme ever.” (EC press release)

Horizon Europe builds on the success of previous framework programmes but introduces a set of new components as well:

  • Introduction of a European Innovation Council (currently a pilot for 2018-2020) supporting breakthrough innovation and helping start-ups and companies scale up their ideas. Examples of new measures include a funding instrument for early stage and one for development and market deployment activities.
  • EU-wide research and innovation missions targeting societal challenges and industrial competitiveness that are co-designed with citizens, stakeholders, the European Parliament and Member States.
  • Emphasis on openness with the “open science” principle being central to Horizon Europe, requiring open access to publications, data, and research data management plans.
  • A new approach to partnerships, streamlining the number of partnerships that the EU will develop or co-fund with partners from industry, civil society and funding foundations, for greater effectiveness and impact.
  • Reduced administrative burden for beneficiaries and programme administrators through simpler rules.

Like Horizon 2020, the new programme will also be implemented through three pillars: the Open Science pillar supports frontier research projects, the Global Challenges and Industrial Competitiveness pillar addresses societal challenges and industrial technologies, and the Open Innovation pillar is focused on scaling up breakthrough and market-creating innovation. The three pillars will be underpinned by activities to strengthen the European Research Area.

Looking at the programme from a regional and interregional perspective, there are features of particular relevance to policy makers, practitioners and stakeholders of Interreg Europe Research and innovation projects. While Horizon Europe will remain clearly focused on supporting European excellence in research and innovation, European industrial competitiveness, and tackling global challenges, there are natural links to the regional policy dimension. These include for example the role of regional RDI ecosystems in supporting and accelerating technology dissemination and take up by regional SMEs, identifying through S3 regional mapping exercises the scope for joint research and innovation strategies and the development of Horizon Europe funding consortia. Together these actions can contribute to the strengthening of the European Research Area.

Furthermore, the new “mission-based approach” can be utilised by regions to help align their own regional priorities with the European level priorities. The framework and context provided by EU-wide missions can add to the relevance and visibility of regional priorities as expressed in S3 strategies; pursuing them can contribute to the success of the overall mission.

Some of the key objectives found among Interreg Europe Research and innovation projects are factors that will be vital to the success of Horizon Europe. For example, strong regional research and innovation infrastructure and strengthening ties between triple-helix actors in regional ecosystems for effective co-creation and technology transfer.

Also, the five clusters of challenges and technologies addressed in the second pillar, “Health”, “Inclusive and secure society”, “Digital and industry”, “Climate, energy and mobility”, and “Food and natural resources” are themes that resonate with the focus of a number of Interreg Europe projects and regional smart specialisation strategies. For example a number of health oriented Interreg Europe partnerships (such as TITTANELISEITHACAHELIUM, HoCARE) have already implemented closer cooperation activities that include targeting Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding mechanisms. Meanwhile the SME competitiveness topic partnerships (e.g. FFWD EUROPE, ESSPO, SPEED UP) will be very interested in the range of new tools that will be made available to help SMEs grow and develop.

The cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, and cross-policy collaboration often sought by Interreg Europe partnerships, e.g. through cluster cooperation and building of new value chains, will also be an essential ingredient for Horizon Europe’s second pillar to achieve high impact and realise the combined innovation potential of different sectors.

The interregional learning and policy instrument improvements delivered through the Interreg Europe partnerships in Research and innovation, can help position regional stakeholders like research institutes, technology transfer organisations, universities and SMEs to better take up the challenges and reap the benefits of Horizon Europe participation.

Indeed, regions are well placed to gather and express the research and innovation needs from their “bottom up” and demand-led perspective, that can be linked to the “top down” challenges – or missions – envisaged under the new framework programme. As add-ons to the cooperation activities supported by Interreg Europe, discussions within the project partnerships can also help identify what type of funding and financing instruments create regional and EU added value. Interregional exchanges can also help, via the support of the Policy Learning Platform, to raise awareness regarding the new programme and pursue the development of synergies between different funding instruments. Indeed, “effective and operational links with other future EU programmes such as cohesion policy” are outlined as an explicit ambition and priority in the draft package for Europe’s new research and innovation programme, clearly recognising the importance of helping regions embrace innovation (see EC press release). The Horizon Europe proposal also states that “the European Regional Development Fund will support the building of research and innovation eco-systems in the Member States in terms of infrastructures, human resources, modernisation of the public and private sectors, and (inter)regional cooperation networks, such as clusters structures.” The Managing Authorities and other Interreg Europe project partners are clearly well placed to exploit the opportunities of the new Horizon Europe programme.

Sources and further reading

EC press release,

EU funding for research and innovation 2021-2027 factsheet

Horizon Europe (Framework Programme for Research and Innovation) – Proposal for a Regulation COM(2018) 435

Mission-oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union  

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