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Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I’m very happy to be here with all of you today.

Brussels has been my home for the past few years. And I’ve always thought that this area around the BIP and Place Royale, near the park, is one of the most beautiful parts of the city.

I think one of the best things you can do in Brussels is to walk through Place Royale on a sunny day. Some of you will know it was built in the 18th century. And like most great things it took time and evolution to become what it is today. 

Around 1780 the architect Joachim Zinner saw the original plans but he wasn’t satisfied. So he tried his hand at modifying the plans for the square.

He didn’t just see a square. He saw a complex.

He saw a space that could be connected to the Royal Park, the Palace of Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine, the Brussels Courthouse and the Palace of the Nation.

He drew up a plan linking all of these strategic points and opened up a whole new part of the city. Brusselois from different classes and backgrounds were now connected geographically. They had a new way to move freely that they didn’t have before. Brussels saw a huge transformation because of Zinner’s vision to connect these different areas. To make them cooperate as one. So I think where we physically stand today is similar to where we metaphorically stand when it comes to science and innovation in Europe.

We are now in the midst of Horizon Europe negotiations. In the context of our European framework for science and innovation, our sector is about to change.  Our work in the next few months will come to define the next few years for science and innovation in Europe. Now we need to ask ourselves:

What are getting right? How can we do better? What needs to change?

And all of you are part of that.

So I want to say thank you to all the RTO’s and to EARTO for your input, your position papers and your views. They have all gone towards helping our proposal.

And here I have to also thank Dan Nica and Christian Ehler. They are doing a really excellent job on fast-tracking the proposal through the European Parliament.

They also have listened. They have talked to RTO’s and heard what needed to be said as rapporteurs.

Today I want to talk about where I see the next generation of partnerships going. And what role the RTO’s will have.

Horizon Europe is our opportunity to move our partnerships to the next level. To go after global leadership.

We've made the landscape of partnerships much simpler in Horizon Europe. Just three types: "institutional"; "co-programmed", and "co-funded".

This simplification has been welcomed by Parliament, Member States and stakeholders.

But now we come to difficult part. To decide which partnerships to support. And what their objectives should be.

My message to you is lets aim high.


Sometimes we are guilty of assuming that Europe is the global leader in many areas. Remember, it’s not inevitable.

Imagine a map of the world. And on that map you have a single point shifting this way and that. This point represents economic power. 

Since the first century the point was marching further and further West. But then all of a sudden in the 1950’s there is a complete turnaround and the point starts moving East. For the past few decades it has been speeding up in this direction. So what is the magnet pulling it this way? Asia.

This map is a very real one made by McKinsey a few years ago showing the economic centre of the world for the past two thousand years until the present day. And what I just described is the result.

Yes, Europe is strong. Yes, Europe has excellent science and tech credentials.

But being the global leader is not something we should take for granted. It is something we need to keep pushing towards.

And if we keep on taking different paths we won’t get there.

So we need the next generation of partnerships to create European leadership in the next wave of innovation..

To get to that next generation we need more ambitious partnerships in three ways.:

  1. Partnerships that accelerate towards the carbon neutral economy
  2. Partnerships that  merge the physical and the digital
  3. Partnerships that are open to new entrants, new ideas and new technologies

First, reducing CO2 Emissions. What we heard last week in the IPCC report was a wakeup call. But it shouldn’t have been.

We know CO2 emissions are killing our planet. And we know what we need to do to prevent it.

But we are our own worst enemies because we’re still not turning that knowledge into action.  

There is no reason that our targets shouldn’t be more radical.

We know the technologies are possible. Especially in areas like aviation where we are seeing amazing new technologies in the market thanks to collaborations like Cleansky. Here is our chance to push further.

The question is not “should we make a radical push?” The question is “how far”?

So I’m asking today: how about a zero emission target for some of our partnerships? I think this is the direction we should be going in. That is if we are really serious about transforming our CO2 emissions in Europe.

Second, we need to push towards merging the physical and digital.

I’ve talked about this many times before.

Some of our strongest sectors in Europe are areas like health, transport, energy. And unfortunately they are some of the most difficult to digitise.

But that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. Because the trend for the future is digitisation. That is where we will make the most gains in our economy. Digitisation is coming our way whether they are open to it or not.

So these industries need to be prepared to embrace digitisation. And the research and innovations developed by our partnerships need to help them do that.

If not, we risk losing our global leadership.

Third, we should open up partnerships. I still hear complaints that partnerships are "closed shops". And we can only achieve more ambitious objectives if we bring in new partners.

We need to go beyond partnerships based on a single industrial sector or a single technology.  

This is where RTO’s can have a greater role in the future programme. And where the KETs come into play.

If we are really pushing for global leadership, we will need the people developing the technologies involved in setting the research agenda. Because we need their expertise and their knowhow. And to inject that new thinking into the process.

Habit is something that is very difficult to break. If we stay with partnerships as they are now, that habit will be to simply improve the technologies we already have. It is just like Henry Ford said: 

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

So let’s knock down the barriers. And let’s open up our partnerships to get more impact.  

As I said, the next few months are critical. The discussions are taking place now. Now I’m talking to Ministers from Member States.

If we want Horizon Europe to be something worth shouting about we need:

  • To secure the 100 billion euro budget
  • To speed up the negotiations
  • And we need to start designing the next generation of partnerships.

What can you do?

Give us your views. Look at the partnerships. Both the ones you are part of and the ones you are not part of. Tell us what you think. Where do we need new partnerships. Tell us how you can be better involved.  

Remember what Eric Brynjolfsson said; 

Technology is not destiny. We shape our destiny.

Don’t take our technological evolution in Europe for granted. Don’t take our global leadership for granted.

We need to put in the groundwork. Just like Joachim Zinner did all those years ago. We need to settle on a vision, and shape it by creating the strongest collaboration possible.

If we get it right, maybe the result will be as successful as Place Royale is today. 

Thank you.