Purpose of ERA-NET Cofund and difference from the former ERA-NET and ERA-NET Plus actions
ERA-NET Cofund under Horizon 2020 is a type of programme co-fund action designed to support public-public partnerships (P2Ps), including joint programming initiatives between Member States, in their preparation, establishment of networking structures, design, implementation and coordination of joint activities as well as Union topping-up of a trans-national call for proposals. It merges the former ERA-NET and ERA-NET Plus into a single instrument with the central and compulsory element of implementing one substantial call with top-up funding from the Commission. The focus of ERA-NETs is therefore shifting from the funding of networks to the top-up funding of single joint calls for transnational research and innovation in selected areas with high European added value and relevance for Horizon 2020. This aims at increasing substantially the share of funding that Member States dedicate jointly to challenge driven research and innovation agendas.
ERA-NETs based on Coordination and Support Action (CSA) are no longer possible. Only in exceptional cases it might be considered to support the preparation and structuring of specific emerging P2Ps that demonstrate clear European added value.
Why become an ERA-NET partner?
The participation in an ERA-NET allows the country/region to link its research programme to the ones of other Member States/countries and participate in joint activities, in particular the funding of transnational research projects. The implementation of transnational research programmes based on an international peer review evaluation process should contribute to increasing the quality of research, increasing the level of funding for challenges which no Member States can tackle alone and avoiding the duplication of research funding.
Research funders have further assessed this with the positioning of the ERA-NET scheme in the context of other instruments and other initiatives.
Scope of activities
Activities supported by ERA-NET Cofund
The main and compulsory activity of the ERA-NET Cofund under Horizon 2020 is the implementation of the co-funded joint call for proposals that leads to the funding of trans-national research and/or innovation projects. The call is normally based on a call for proposals resulting in grants to third parties.
In addition to the organisation of a co-funded call, ERA-NETs can implement other joint activities such as additional joint calls without Union co-funding, training courses, workshops and meetings. These activities should contribute to the coordination of national programmes. In this case the EU can provide additional funding for these activities on a basis of unit costs (fixed amount per partner per year).
Identification of topics addressed by ERA-NETs
The identification of topics for future ERA-NET Cofund actions is part of the drafting of the work programmes for Horizon 2020, which is done by the Commission services in close collaboration with the respective Programme Committees that consist of national representatives. They will take into consideration a number of criteria, including experience with current ERA-NETs and the need to address societal challenges.
Participation and funding
Who can apply for an ERA-NET Cofund?
Participants in ERA-NET Cofund actions must be research funders: legal entities owning or managing public research and innovation programmes other than Union funding bodies (see definition of "programme co-fund action" –Art 2.1.16 of Regulation 1290/2013 on H2020 Rules for participation). Programme owners are typically national/regional ministries/authorities responsible for defining, financing or managing research programmes carried out at national or regional level. Programme managers are typically research councils or funding agencies or other national or regional organisations that implement research programmes under the supervision of the programme owner (i.e. the ministries).
In the normal cash based ERA-NET research institutions cannot be partners. In the very specific case of an ERA-NET based on institutional programmes of governmental research organisations, with in kind contributions from their block funding, they can participate. They cannot claim coordination costs for additional activities. They have to be mandated by e.g. their ministry as programme owner.
Programmes funded by other entities (international programmes, foundations or other non-public programmes) may participate in case it is justified by the nature of the action, and only if the minimum conditions for participation are fulfilled by the entities participating in the joint trans-national call for proposals (three independent legal entities from three different Member States or associated countries).
A state/province within a country can participate in the ERA-NET and it is treated the same as if a member state participates. There is no problem for a number of regions from the same country to participate in the same ERA-NET action provided that the minimum conditions for participation are met.
As concerns international organisations, only international European interest organisations (as defined under Art 2.1.12 of the H2020 Rules for participation) are automatically eligible for funding from the Union budget. Other international organisations can only be exceptionally funded, under the same conditions as those applicable to legal entities established in third countries (see Art 10.2 of the H2020 Rules for participation).
Can other partners join an ERA-NET Cofund after proposal stage?
Yes, they can during grant preparation or later on with amendment of the Grant Agreement. The only limitation is that new partners to the cofunded call should not join later than the launch of the call. All partners participating in the cofunded call have to be members in the consortium.
Can beneficiaries join as full partner without participating in the co-funded joint call?
An ERA-NET Cofund consortium may carry out other activities in addition to the call receiving top-up funding. Where appropriate, additional partners might be involved which do not participate in co-funded calls. The activities have to be related to the coordination of public research and innovation programmes and should focus on the preparation and implementation of joint activities including additional calls without Union top-up funding.
Do the ERA-NETs have to apply H2020 rules for participation for the funding of projects?
The ERA-NETs can continue to use national funding rules. They are however encouraged to harmonise rules and implementation modalities of the joint calls and actions. For this purpose, it may be envisaged that the grant agreements to be concluded with the final beneficiaries specify the conditions for the implementation of the call and the funding of projects in line with the H2020 Rules for participation and the EU Financial Regulation.
For general principles of funding of legal entities from third countries, please see the section on international cooperation.
Proposal preparation & submission
Application process is described in the 'Submit a proposal' section.
Is there a minimum and maximum amount for the EU contribution?
There are no minimum or maximum amounts for ERA-NET actions. The Work Programme and PP topic pages normally specify indicative amounts for the Union contributions that are considered adequate for addressing the respective challenge. These are normally at least Euro 5 million. In any case, the requested amount should be duly justified in the proposal by the contributions from Participating States.
Is there a requirement for a minimum commitment from the Member States jointly of the consortium?
Yes, the joint commitment that is necessary to request the proportional Union contribution published in the H2020 Work programme and its calls. The consortium members should also be careful and make sure that everyone makes a realistic contribution that is in line with the expected requested funding from proposers of each country.
What is the exact process and financing principles for an ERA-NET based on in-kind contributions?
The call is normally based on a call for proposals resulting in grants to third parties. ERA-NET Cofund may also, depending on the research area and the underlying national programmes and their governing principles, target governmental research organisations. The projects resulting from the co-funded call are carried out by the ERA-NET partners themselves. The in-kind contributions are the resources allocated as direct expenditure in the selected transnational projects that are not reimbursed by the Union contribution, but financed by each beneficiary out of their institutional funding.
The possibility to submit an ERA-NET based on in-kind contributions is described in the call text. Any ERA-NET based on in-kind contributions from institutional funding of governmental research organisations will be on the basis of a previous discussion between the Commission services and the ministries/their research organisations.
Examples of calls being organized for governmental research organisations with their institutional funding can be found on the EMPIR webpage and the AERTOs project page.
In the case of the virtual common pot model, how can the global budget be secured in advance?
The global budget cannot be secured in advance. The final budget will depend on the call and the selection of projects. The allocation of the Union contribution to the individual projects is the responsibility of the ERA-NET consortium and follows normally a so-called mixed-mode funding model. The total Union contribution to the costs of providing support to transnational projects is calculated as a percentage of their total eligible costs. The Commission will reimburse eligible costs on the basis of what has actually been incurred as public funding being paid to the project participants according to national funding rules. Therefore, if the actual eligible costs for support to trans-national projects are lower than the original amount defined in the Grant Agreement, the Union contribution will be reduced accordingly.
If a partner organisation decides to participate in a co-funded call and there are no fundable projects from its country, is the organisation required to fund the joint call?
It depends on the funding mode you have chosen within the consortium. In the case of a real common pot, all the resources are pooled and used to fund projects regardless of the country of the participant. In the case of a virtual common pot, it is different since each partner organisation pays for its own participants up to the amount of its contribution. In the latter a partner without any successful proposals selected for funding would not contribute any more to the call and the resulting projects.
What is meant by unit costs for additional activities?
In order to simplify implementation, the beneficiary can receive financial support from the Union in form of Unit Costs, in this case a fixed amount per beneficiary per year. It is limited to those beneficiaries that carry out activities that go beyond the co-funded call. Proposers have to demonstrate the appropriateness of the overall coordination costs for the proposed additional activities.
The total amount of the Unit Costs claimed cannot exceed 20% of the total EC contribution and depends therefore on the overall budget of the co-funded call as well as the maximum Union contribution foreseen for the action (see the Annotated Model Grant Agreement).
How has the amount been calculated?
The amount of the unit costs to be declared by the beneficiaries shall be calculated in accordance with the method set out in Section 3 of the Commission Decision C(2013)8200. Based on the costs reported to previous ERA-NETs the Commission has defined an average coordination costs per beneficiary per year of €29 000. Participants in ERA-NET actions that carry out additional activities can claim these costs. To this the indirect costs of 25% are added, before applying the 33% reimbursement rate. This results in a maximum reimbursement per beneficiary per year of €11 962.50. The costs will be calculated automatically by the IT system. Please note that the costs must fulfil the eligibility criteria of Article 6.1(b) of the Cofund MGA and be declared for the additional activities described in Annex 1. For more information, you may refer to the Annotated Model Grant Agreement.
Is there any financial reporting to be done for the unit costs?
There is no financial reporting required for the unit costs. The payment of the unit cost is not conditional to a certain level of expenditure; it is conditional to the participation in the other activities as planned in the proposal. Beneficiaries will normally allocate additional resources, as already under FP6 and FP7. The exact level of expenditure is not needed to be demonstrated.
Is it possible to redistribute part of the unit costs within the consortium or have the full amounts to be paid to each beneficiary?
It is a decision of the consortium partners how to allocate the Union contribution, including the unit costs. They may decide to redistribute part of the funds received (including) unit costs, as long as the individual entities ensure full participation in the activities as planned.
To which extent do activities paid by unit costs have to be described in the ERA-NET proposal?
The activities have to be described in one or more additional work packages. They can be described in lesser detail than the activities of the co-funded call.
Do unit costs in any way have to be substantiated?
The resources foreseen for the additional activities do not have to be described in the proposal, but proposers have to demonstrate the appropriateness of the overall coordination costs for the proposed additional activities.
How does the flat rate for indirect costs work?
We apply the 25% flat rate for indirect costs to the unit costs for additional activities before applying the reimbursement rate of 33%. This applies equally for the actual costs for implementing projects in the case of the in-kind ERA-NET, with the exception of the costs for subcontracting (see the Annotated Model Grant Agreement).
Eligibility of costs
Does the Commission cover the costs for the preparation and implementation of the call or the costs for the coordinator?
No costs for activities related to the preparation, implementation and follow-up of the co-funded call are eligible. The Commission reimburses 33% of the financial support paid to third parties (or costs of implementation of the projects in case of in-kind ERA-NET). The consortium may however choose to use part of the Union contribution to support their activities as long as the corresponding costs are not declared as eligible and the Union contribution does not exceed 33% of partners' funding of transnational projects and unit costs for additional activities. This means in practice that they have to replace any Union contribution that is used to support their activities with additional national contributions to the funding of transnational projects (see General Annex D to the Main Work Programme). This has already been applied by all ERA-NET Plus actions under FP7. These arrangements should be reflected in the Consortium Agreement.
What is the black-box?
It is a synonym for what is described in the Annex to the Work Programme. Although no costs for activities related to the preparation, implementation and follow-up of the co-funded call are eligible, the consortium may decide to use part of the Union contribution to support their activities as long as the corresponding costs are not declared as eligible and the Union contribution does not exceed 33% of partners' funding of transnational projects and unit costs for additional activities. This means in practice that they have to replace any Union contribution that is used to support their activities with additional national contributions to the funding of trans-national projects.
Is there any guidance available for how to make a distribution of costs and funds among the organisations involved in management/coordination?
It has to be developed by the consortia themselves, based on the experiences from running ERA-NET Cofund actions.
Can loan-based programmes or other financial instrument be used in the context of the ERA-NET?
The Commission can only accept grant amounts paid to third parties as eligible costs in the cash based ERA-NET Cofund. If an agency is using loans or other financial instrument, or a combination they might still participate in the call, but would not receive any co-funding from H2020 for the projects they are supporting.
Are structural funds compatible with ERA-NET funds?
Structural funds are compatible with ERA-NET funds. According to the H2020 Rules for Participation, H2020 funding can be cumulated with any grant from the Union budget, provided that the grant does not cover the same cost items. The total budget of the joint call may include additional call contributions including ESIF funds (outside the grant agreement), however caution is required to ensure that they are not declared as eligible costs and are not topped-up by H2020 grants (this allows MS to fund additional projects/beneficiaries in the call).
How do personnel costs (salaries of researchers) count for the calculation of the Union contribution?
Cash based ERA-NET: national funding rules apply. Whatever the national funding reimburses as costs of the projects, including salaries of researchers, becomes eligible costs for the research funders towards the Commission. The Commission reimburses 33% of the eligible costs, within the limits of the maximum Union contribution.
In-kind based ERA-NET: H2020 rules apply. The governmental research organisations participating in the ERA-NET implement the selected projects following the call for proposals themselves. Their expenditure (incl. researchers’ salaries) for the implementation of the projects becomes eligible costs according to the H2020 rules (100% direct costs plus 25% flat rate for indirect costs), of which the Commission reimburses 33%.
Does it matter whether the national money comes from the ERA-NET partner or from other funding bodies of the same county?
The Commission reimburses financial support paid to third parties (beneficiaries of the national funding bodies), in accordance with national funding rules. This means that the beneficiaries in our ERA-NET Cofund Grant Agreement have to demonstrate these eligible costs in their financial statements. It does not matter where the national funding comes from, but the ERA-NET partners have to make the payments to the researchers in order to claim the costs.
An ERA-NET Cofund consortium may carry out other activities in addition to the call receiving top-up funding. The activities have to be related to the coordination of public research and innovation programmes and should focus on the preparation and implementation of joint activities including additional calls without Union top-up funding (activities comparable to the ones of the FP7 ERA-NETs). See General Annex D to the Main Work Programme.
In principle additional activities can also include transnational monitoring if it goes beyond the research projects resulting from the co-funded call.
The minimum requirement is to have 5 work packages related to the co-funded call. For additional activities further work packages should be planned. Additional activities need to be clearly identified and for that they have to be described in separate work packages (not integrated into WP1-5).
Can a Programme manager/owner participate in the co-funded call as just managing it, not co-funding the call?
Yes, the management of the call can be entrusted to one of the consortium members. The consortium member to which the management of the call has been entrusted may or not participate to the co-funding of the call.
Can the financial management of the ERA-NET be mandated or even subcontracted by the coordinator to a Third Party that is given an "authorisation to administer"?
Yes, the option is foreseen in the Model Grant Agreement, Art. 41.2. When the coordinator is a secondary or higher education establishment or public body, he can delegate the financial management of the ERA-NET to a third party that is given an "authorisation to administer". However, the coordinator retains sole responsibility for the EU contribution and for compliance with the obligations under the Agreement (see the Annotated Model Grant Agreement).
Implementation of activities
Calls for proposals
For the co-funded call the projects must comprise at least 2 legal entities from two different EU Member States or Associated Countries. This is part of the minimum conditions for participation that must be fulfilled. However, the consortium may decide to ask that funded projects involve research teams from more than two countries. In this case, this should be indicated in the call text.
EC co-funding has to be used for a single call. However, it is possible to have different subtopics within the same co-funded call.
What flexibility do consortia have to adjust the call text after approval of the proposal?
Any modification has to be discussed with/approved by the Commission services in charge of the respective ERA-NET. In any case the call text has to be submitted to the Commission for approval before publication.
Can member states change the level of funding during the call both upwards and downwards? Would the EC still provide matched funding?
Participating States may decide to increase their contribution to the call (e.g. in case of higher request for funding from applicants) or they may commit less, depending on the number of successful proposals they receive. The Commission provides 33% of the total support paid to third parties, within the maximum Union contribution defined in the GA. The allocation of the Union contribution to individual projects is the responsibility of the consortium.
Should calls already be launched before the Cofund project proposal is granted?
In principle possible, it is up to the consortium to decide/discuss with the Commission services in charge of the respective ERA-NET.
Evaluation and ranking list of the co-funded call:
If there are a number of proposals with equal ranking, of which not all can be funded due the remaining available funding, the consortium may apply additional criteria for the selection of the remaining projects (e.g. panel recommendation, matching available national funds, complementarity of projects).
Is it possible to transfer some of the EC top up funding from one state to another if there is greater project need in one area than another?
The allocation of the Union contribution to the selected projects is the responsibility of the consortium and depends on the selected funding mode.
Funds will be allocated in accordance with the funding mode chosen (real common pot vs. virtual common pot). The approach used by most ERA-NETs for the co-funded call is the so-called mixed mode. In this model, each participating funding organisation will fund its own successful participants. Funding will not be available from one participating funding organisation for successful participants from other participating funding organisations, there is no cross border funding involved. In this model, the EC top-up funding is used (partially) to close the gaps of funding within the ranking list (i.e. project participants for which no more national/regional funding is available). An agreed share of top-up funding is to be allocated to fill these funding gaps irrespective of nationality.
Is ERA-NET Cofund more flexible regarding extensions of the contract (later end-date) (compared to ERA-NET Plus)?
Yes, contract extension is possible in duly justified cases. The duration of ERA-NET Cofund actions is set at 5 years. During this time the consortium has to prepare and implement the call, select and negotiate the projects, finalise the projects including final payment to their beneficiaries. A shorter duration than 5 years is not feasible. It is possible to amend the grant agreement and allow for a longer duration, e.g. when consortia face problems in finalising the funded projects.
If new members want to participate after the negotiation of the ERA-NET Cofund, can these countries be associated with the grant agreement afterward and are they eligible for ERA-NET Cofund top-up funding?
In principle new participants can join the consortium after signature of the Grant Agreement (GA) through an amendment. As long as this addition of new participants (from Member States or Associated Countries) takes place before the publication of the top-up funded call, these new participants could still participate in this call and could thus receive funding from the Union contribution. However, the maximum Union contribution cannot be modified once the GA is signed (or even after a proposal has been evaluated). This means that, even if a member joins the existing consortium and contributes resources to the joint transnational call, this would not result in an increase of the Union contribution.
What happens if planned additional activities are not implemented? Is an amendment needed for replacement by other activities?
If additional activities are not implemented at all, the basis for the payment of the unit costs does not exist any longer. If consortia wish to introduce major changes to their activities it has to be done with an amendment request, subject to the approval of the Commission.
Besides the deliverables corresponding to the co-funded call, are other deliverables required, in particular those for other activities?
The proposers have to specify in their proposal the deliverables of the project. This will include the ones required by the Model Grant Agreement in relation to the co-funded call. If the consortium foresees additional activities they should also be underpinned by the necessary deliverables.
Communication and visibility
Promotion and visibility of EU co-funded call is mandatory. Activities not co-funded by the Commission such as additional calls are not subject to the EU visibility rules.
The Consortium Agreement has to be signed in time for the signature of the Grant Agreement. The consortium has to confirm to the Commission that the consortium agreement has been signed. They do not have to submit it to the Commission.
A template for an ERA-NET Cofund Consortium Agreement is available on the ERA-LEARN webpage. It will be updated, based on the experience from the first projects resulting from the 2014 calls.