Northern Ireland has the chance to tap into a €79 billion European funding package for research and development, according to a senior EU official. Horizon 2020 covers the 2014-2020 period and Alan Cross is Deputy Head of the policy unit overseeing the project.
Cross explained the policy will “first and foremost” seek to support the EU’s growth and jobs agenda. He remarked: “We’re trying to invest in the future, to create opportunities for companies, for organisations, for universities to come together with creative and innovative solutions.”
The largest pillar (€30 billion) focuses on tackling societal challenges such as food security, energy, climate and transport. Twenty per cent of this funding is allocated to SMEs.
Another tranche of funding (€24 billion) has a “strong focus on excellent science” and is academic-led. For example, scientists can come forward with “blue sky” ideas through the European Research Council without any predetermined priorities.
The third main priority (€17 billion) is industry-led and supports key enabling technologies “where Europe needs to have a strategic lead in industrial capacity” e.g. ICT, photonics and biotechnology.
Cross added: “We’ve made a real effort to try to simplify procedures, make it more accessible to all sorts of stakeholders, and especially a strong focus on trying to get newcomers on board [and] a strong focus on small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Cross emphasises that investment in R&D forms part of the European recovery. Countries with higher per capita R&D spends experienced greater GDP growth.
Horizon 2020’s work programmes last for two years and funding calls are less prescriptive than before.
Administration has been streamlined through a single set of rules for all areas of funding, a comprehensive online portal, a simpler reimbursement system (one funding rate for each project) and a commitment to process grants within eight months of a call deadline.
A total of 290 applicants from Northern Ireland had been funded under the previous EU R&D programme (FP7): €88.5 million was received and the most active organisations were Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Ulster, Bombardier and the PSNI.
He added that local people could also contribute to the programme by becoming expert evaluators across a range of fields.
The assignments involve evaluating proposals, monitoring EU actions and participating in the Horizon 2020 advisory groups, thus helping to influence research policy.
More information on the programme is available at ec.europa.eu/horizon2020