European research and innovation efforts are set to receive a significant increase in funding with the announcement of the largest set of calls for proposals ever under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Worth a total of EUR 8.1 billion, projects funded by these calls are open to organisations and businesses in all EU Member States, FP7 partner states and specifically eligible countries.
The calls target both innovation and a range of societal challenges, building a bridge to Horizon 2020, the next funding programme for EU research from 2014-2020.
'Knowledge is the currency of the global economy,' says European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. 'If Europe wants to continue to compete in the 21st century, we must support the research and innovation that will generate growth and jobs, now and in the future. The high level of competition for EU funding makes sure that taxpayers' money goes to the best projects that tackle issues that concern all of us.'
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a special place in the current round of calls with a package worth around EUR 1.2 billion. This includes financing for SMEs of around EUR 970 million under the 'Cooperation' Theme, where ring-fenced budgets for SMEs will account for up to 75 % of available funding in specific calls. There will also be EUR 250 million for the dedicated SMEs programme 'Research for the benefit of SMEs', including demonstration actions for FP7 research results.
Launched in 2007, FP7 has a total budget of EUR 55 billion for research and innovation. It has so far supported some 19,000 projects involving over 79,000 participants (universities, research organisations and businesses) across all EU Member States, with a total EU investment so far of EUR 25.3 billion. By 2013 it is estimated that FP7 will also have directly supported some 55,000 individual researchers' careers.
EU research funding generates significant added value for Europe. For example, one Euro of EU Framework Programme funding leads to an increase in industry added value of between EUR 7 and EUR 14. Specific areas and topics that will be supported in this round of calls for proposals touch many aspects of daily life, including:
- climate change;
- industrial innovation connected with piloting, demonstration, standardisation and technology transfer;
- research training and mobility around the European Union and further abroad;
- sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors;
- technologies for urban areas and cities;
- combating the threat of drug-resistant bacteria;
- innovative solutions for managing fresh water resources;
- sustainable supply of raw materials to the EU;
- efficiency in the processing of biological resources;
- safe and plentiful food;
- bio-based products and processes;
- new approaches to delivering public services and public policy;
- sustainable, low-carbon urban environments;
- energy supply and volatility;
- combating diseases of the brain like Alzheimer's, depression and schizophrenia;
- mission-critical space technologies dealing with exploration missions, space weather, space debris and collision threats;
- post-disaster (natural or man-made) crisis management;
- information and communication technologies (ICT) in health-, material- and neuro-sciences and neuro-robotics;
- and more.
To help spread research efforts more widely, a new European Research Area Chairs initiative is being prepared. A EUR 12 million pilot call will select a total of five ERA Chairs, to be hosted by universities or other eligible research institutions in less developed regions of five different EU countries.
Building on the experience of the 2012 work programme, there will be EUR 220 million to promote the use of promising existing research results, whether derived from EU or non-EU funding. This includes support to develop research project results or to build networks-initiatives to make this happen. For example, in transport, there will be up to EUR 4 million to support the transfer of technologies between sectors.
Bringing public and private actors closer together is also the purpose of the European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) being set up under the Innovation Union action plan. The big challenges Europe faces - such as climate change, energy and food security, health and an ageing population - also present opportunities for new business and the EIPs aim to give the EU a first-mover advantage in these markets. Up to five EIPs will be supported, including the EIP pilot action on Active and Healthy Ageing.
In addition, the European Research Council's small-scale initiative 'ERC Proof of Concept' will continue to help bridging the gap between ERC grant holders' research results and commercialisation.
ICT will see a boost, with nearly EUR 1.5 billion earmarked to support information and communication technologies-related projects in 2013. The EU will invest in research which strengthens Europe's scientific and technology base, helps drive and stimulate product, service and process innovation and creativity through ICT use and ensures that ICT progress is rapidly transformed into benefits. Cloud computing is a focal point, with the launch of the European Cloud Partnership (ECP) later in 2012.
The world is in competition for the best brains and ideas. Making Europe a destination for world-class researchers remains a key priority. The European Research Council (ERC) is investing in the very best young and senior researchers, of any nationality, based in or moving to Europe, to carry out their pioneering frontier research projects. By supporting the very best talent in all areas the ERC contributes to creating new jobs for the research community in Europe.
Organisations and researchers from more than 100 countries all over the world are already involved in EU research programmes. In addition to the general integration of international activities right across FP7, there are specific calls to promote bi-regional cooperation and bilateral partnerships with EU-based organisations.