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Horizon 2020 found to be meeting its objectives, but is underfunded

Brussels, 30 May 2017

A new assessment of the first years of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme, shows that it is on track to help create jobs and growth, tackle our biggest societal challenges and improve people's lives. Horizon 2020 has clear European added value by producing demonstrable benefits compared to national or regional-level support, but it has been so successful in attracting the best researchers and innovators that it could have spent four times its budget in support of excellent projects.

These are some of the main findings of the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 published today by the European Commission.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation said: "Horizon 2020's interim evaluation and stakeholder feedback confirm that an EU programme for research and innovation is an invaluable asset for Europe that fuels economic growth, creates the jobs of tomorrow and tackles the societal challenges of our time. However, we can always do even better, and will use the lessons learned to make Horizon 2020's last three years even more effective, and to design a fit-for-purpose successor programme".

The interim evaluation provides a comprehensive assessment of Horizon 2020 after its first three years. Of the first 11,000 projects funded so far, less than 10% have already finished (and their budget is less than 0.6% of the budget committed), so it is too early to talk about the final impact of Horizon 2020. However, the programme is already funding research and innovations that will make a difference to the economy and to people's lives.

One example is the project to establish a pilot plant to apply nanotechnology to medicines and produce better targeted nanopharmaceuticals that could help improve treatment conditions such as HIV or dry eye syndrome. Another project is demonstrating innovative in-vehicle safety systems to better protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Horizon 2020 is also helping Europe to be greener and achieve the targets of the Paris agreement on climate. It is funding Clean Sky to make aircraft cleaner and quieter. Another project will build the biggest plant in the world, and the first of its kind in Europe, to produce bioethanol fuel from emissions produced during steelmaking. Another project will convert sewage treatment plants into power production facilities.

Horizon 2020 has also been flexible and responsive to new and urgent needs, such as the Ebola and Zika emergencies. Horizon 2020's rapid response to Ebola is already delivering, with vaccine trials on the ground in West Africa underway.

These are just a few of the projects involving the best researchers and innovators from Europe and beyond. The programme has proved extremely attractive and demand is high. Participants come from over 130 different countries and more than half are newcomers, meaning they did not take part in its predecessor, the 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7). Annually, the number of applications has increased by 65% compared to FP7, with 100,000 in total.

This leap in demand for European funding has, however, led to oversubscription and a drop in success rates, with some parts of the programme strongly underfunded. An additional EUR 60 billion would have been needed to support all the proposals that were scored "excellent" by independent evaluations.

Horizon 2020 demonstrates clear European added value in terms of economies of speed, scale and scope, producing demonstrable benefits compared to national and regional-level support. 83% of projects funded would not have gone ahead without EU support.

Besides oversubscription, the evaluation also identified other areas for improvement, including stimulating and scaling-up breakthrough, market-creating innovation in particular by SMEs; and increasing the awareness and involvement of the general public in agenda-setting.

Background

The interim evaluation was carried out according to the Commission’s Better Regulation Guidelines, drawing on several external studies, independent expert groups and extensive internal analyses. An essential input into the exercise was the public consultation that closed in January 2017 and received close to 3500 responses and almost 300 position papers. The Commission Staff Working Document that contains the full interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 is structured around five criteria: coherence, effectiveness, efficiency, EU added value and relevance.

The interim evaluation also looks forward to future EU funding for research and innovation. The results and lessons will help the Commission to design the final Horizon 2020 Work Programme (2018-20) and will provide the evidence base for the report of the High Level Group on maximising the impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes. This group will present its report and recommendations at the conference Research and innovation: shaping our future in Brussels on 3 July. The Commission will draw policy conclusions from the interim evaluation and react to the recommendations of the High Level Group in a Communication due to be adopted this autumn.

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