Horizon Europe (HEU) is the largest R&I programme in the world. Successor of Horizon2020, it is foreseen to involve 130+ countries eligible for funding. It supports research and innovation thought out the entire value chain, from frontier research to the market uptake of innovation, including scale-up of breakthrough innovators. The management of the framework programme is shared among many subjects, from the European Commission’s directorates general and its Agencies, to independent bodies, such as e.g. European Research Council, European Innovation Council, European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and the Joint Research Centre.
The “new” Horizon programme is characterised by a significant shift in the underpinning paradigm, switching from “activity-driven” (Horizon 2020) to “Impact-driven” (Horizon Europe). The new programme structure and logic confirm the TRLs-based approach (Technology Readiness Levels), securing funding instrument for each stage of development of the research/innovation. The TRLs progress is also reflected the program segmentation in the 3 core “Pillars”:
Pillar I focusses on i) fundamental research (ERC), ii) researchers’ career development (MSCA actions); and iii) strategic Research Infrastructures. It supports activities in the very early TRLs (roughly from TRL1 to TRL3/4), and the key granting authorities are the European Research Council (ERC) and the Research Executive Agency (REA). Typically, beneficiaries of Pillar 1 are individual researchers (Principal Investigators and researchers at different levels of their career), universities, research centres, with a minority component of private organisations from the industry. Pillar I adopts a bottom up approach, i.e. research will be open to research in any sector and not limited to pre-identified specific topics.
Pillar II provides funding for the technological development of the idea, enabling the TRL to move from research toward the market. Pillar is the “political” pillar of the programme. By offering a top-down approach (identification of research priorities through strategic planning, and definition of priorities, expected impacts, topics in the cluster work programmes) the programme laverage on R&I to reach its political and policy goals. The Pillar is segmented into 6 “clusters” and 5 “missions”. Clusters provide funding through Research and Innovation Actions (RIA), Innovation Actions (IA) and Coordination & Support Actions (CSA). They are collaborative projects implemented by a consortium of beneficiaries according to the traditional model adopted in Horizon2020. The very element of novelty of Pillar II are the so-called “Missions”, ambitious, time-bound set of actions in those areas where a single EU project cannot achieve the expected impact. Therefore, the main characteristic of the Missions implementation model is the “portfolio” approach (the success of project proposals is largely influenced by their relevance with the topic, but also by their complementarity with other projects in the same portfolio).
The Pillar III offers funding for “innovation”, targeting those ideas with high TRLs, focusing on the potential “market” impact. Thanks to the new Horizon Europe Pillar III, the innovation is finally recognised as important as the research and the technology development in order to reach the Unions ambitious environmental, societal, competitiveness, global leadership goals. This European Innovation Council (EIC) component of this pillar is designed for SMEs mostly, even if the participation of other key players of the innovation ecosystem (research institutions, HEI, and public administration) is ensured. The European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) part of the pillar is substantially confirmed as H2020, representing the funding instrument for sector-specific Knowledge Innovation Communities implementing the triple helix paradigm. Finally, Pillar III will keep funding the strengthening and growth of the European Innovation Ecosystems.
The above main structure of the programme is complemented by other programme parts (outside the three traditional pillars) such as “Widening participation and spreading excellence in the European Research Area”, “Reforming and enhancing the European Research and Innovation system”, the “European Defence Fund” and the EURATOM funding.
HEU will provide support to beneficiaries thought many types of actions: recurrent are the RIA, IA, CSA, ERC grants (starting / consolidator / advanced / synergy, proof of concept), training and mobility action (MSCA, slightly modified and renamed), the EIC funding instruments in the twofold option “Open” or “Strategic Challenges” i.e. Pathfinder (former Future and Emerging Technologies – FET, in H2020), Transition (new funding instrument) and Accelerator (renewed, and replacing the formerly known SME Instrument phase 2), PPC (Pre-commercial procurement), PPI (Public procurement of innovative solutions), prizes (inducement/recognition).
The programme is open to any type of organisation, including natural persons (for specific actions only). In Horizon 2020, the EU contribution received by type of beneficiary has been:
Horizon Europe funds Research, Technology Development, Innovation, including their relevant ecosystems, R&I policy reform and governance.
Pillar I and III adopt a bottom-up approach, so the applicant can define the project topic.
Pillar II has pre-defined topics for clusters and mission:
Clusters focus on:
Missions focus on:
5. Soil health and food
The financial aspects (budget) of the research Framework Programmes are among the most complex to manage. The program uses the full range of form of costs foreseen by the art. 125 Reg. 1046/2018 (“Financing not linked to costs”, “Actual”, “Unit”, “Plat Rate” and “Lump Sum”). According to different type of actions, different forms of costs can (or must) be used. The majority of actions (RIA, IA, CSA, ERC grants, EIC grants) use actual, unit, and flat rate costs. MSCAs use unit costs only. Prizes and other specific calls can use Lump Sum form. However, the use of a blend of form of costs is a decision of the EC services, so it is possible to find different combinations in different calls.
Peculiarities of this programme budgeting is that (depending on the call specificities) it is possible also to declare costs related to Affiliated Entities (former linked third parties), in-kind contributors, sub-grantees. Projects are normally open to Associated Partners (former International partners, i.e. entities allowed to take part to the technical implementation of the action, but not eligible for funding).
Indirect costs are normally 25% of eligible direct costs, not considering subcontracting, financial support to third parties (sub-grantees), costs of in-kind contributors when the contribution is not used by the beneficiary’s premises, and other specific situations where the EU contribution to the action may represent a case of possible double-funding (e.g. when receiving operational grants).
The compilation of the estimated budget at proposal level can be different according to the budget model adopted for each call.
For calls run under the traditional budget scheme (forms of cost: Actual, Unit, Lump Sum) the budget does not require to be detailed. Only the amount per partner, per budget category, is required. The detailed breakdown of costs incurred is required only during specific checks ordered by the PO, and (always) during Audits (CFS and II° level Audits). Consequently, estimating the budget at proposal level may appear a clerical task, nevertheless – give possible later checks and controls – underestimating the relevance of a well-designed and eligible budget can be extremely tricky, and costs declared could reveal to be ineligible when reporting, or during an audit.
In addition to traditional budget approach, Horizon Europe is expected to consistently implement a novel way to manage grants budget, the so-called new Lump Sum i.e. the form of cost “Financing not linked to the cost of the relevant operations” (art. 125 letter a – Financial Regulation 2018/1046). This form of costs was introduced in 2018, and piloted between 2018 and 2020, with the aim of simplifying the financial management of grants. It is expected to be used for RIA, IA and CSA mainly, but the real magnitude of its iation will depend by the relevant EC authorising officers responsible for each call or group of calls. When a call is implemented under this scheme, the financial reporting is no more required (i.e. no financial statements, no financial audits, no timesheets, …), and the EU contribution will be conditional to the completion of Work Packages, by all partners involved in its implementation) before the end of the reporting period. This novel lump sum model entails a detailed breakdown of project estimated costs at proposal level, per beneficiary, per budget category ad per work package, and very limited possibilities for budget shift are foreseen.
The following aspects revealed to be more prone to error, or poor implementation/management, in Horizon 2020:
Technical Implementation issues:
Financial Implementation issues:
The programme is expected to be entirely managed through the Funding and Tender Opportunities portal, or the AI EIC platform (for EIC funds)The portal provides any practical information to participate to Horizon Europe, e.g official documents (work programmes, call for proposal, and models of grant agreements, guidelines, and templates). It is also the access point to the Participant Register, the submission facility, the System for Grant Management (SYGMA), the Project and Results area and the participation to the programme as an individual Expert.
Read carefully the entire call for proposal. Every line includes a piece of information valuable to prepare a sound proposal
Dedicate time to understand the call scope, challenge and expected pathway to impact – you need to demonstrate you understand how the innovation can reach the society and generate an impact
Involve you partners from the very beginning in the proposal preparation – it may take from 6 months to 1 year to prepare a competitive proposal, and it takes time to brainstorm with them and extract the best from each partner
Ensure you have the technical and financial resources to carry out the action, or at least you have a pan to secure them
Start working on your consortium agreement terms from the very beginning of your contacts with partners. The internal rules of the game are extremely important for your project to run smoothly, in particular about the ownership and rights to exploit research results
Don’t write your proposal alone, many expertise are required from your organisation. Collaborative projects are not one-man-band show, so proposals neither. Transmit to your partners the need of their involvement and contribution in the proposal planning and writing
Don’t underestimate the efforts and time required for the “2.Impact” section of the application form. While you are very good in writing about your science/technology/innovation (“1. Excellence”), you may struggle in figuring out and describe the benefits of your project for the world outside the academia. Get support from your team to develop this part in appropriately (e.g. experts from Social Sciences and Humanities, Knowledge transfer offices, Stakeholders external to the consortium)
Ask several review from independent experts or colleagues to identify weaknesses and remain open-minded to integrations
In particular for very competitive and recurring calls (e.g. ERC, MSCA, Accelerator, Pathfinder,…) consider that you may be not successful at first attempt. It may take more than one to be awarded. If your project is not selected, it doesn’t mean it is not good, it means it can be improved
Don’t offer to the EC unrealistic technical and scientific achievements for the sole purpose to rise interest on your project. Your proposal might be evaluated by experts from the same sector, so they can understand whether your ambition is realistic, and if the work plan can achieve the expected goals