Horizon 2020 the basics | EEF

Horizon 2020 - the basics

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With all of this talk about Brexit, as well as negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with EU science and innovation programmes (particularly how it will participate in Horizon Europe), we thought that it would be useful to discuss the incumbent EU research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. We have previously talked about the importance of EU research programmes to UK manufacturers here.

What is Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 is the current €77 billion EU main funding programme for research and innovation. It succeeded FP7 and will be followed by Horizon Europe (FP9). The it started in 2014 and will end in 2020. The programme offers opportunity for participants to collaborate and often receive funding for projects across a number of scientific disciplines.

  • Supports research and innovation projects in basic research, strategic and applied research, demonstration projects, and close-to-market activities.
  • To apply for most Horizon 2020 funding, organisations must be in a consortium. Usually, the consortium must be made up of at least 3 organisations from different member or associate countries.

What does it look like?

Horizon 2020 is structured under three main pillars. Individual researchers and groups of researchers can apply for funding in each of the pillars. The choice of pillar and underlying programme depends on what a researcher is looking for in terms of the size of project, whether it is basic or applied research etc.


The three pillars are:

Pillar 1: Excellent Science. This pillar is focused on expanding Europe’s basic science base in order to make it more competitive globally. It includes the European Research Council for frontier research, cross disciplinary proposals and pioneering ideas in emerging fields.

Pillar 2: Industrial Leadership. This pillar is focused on industrial involvement and applied research and aims to increase the speed of technological and innovative development in businesses. It includes the Innovation in SMEs instrument.

Pillar 3: Societal Challenges. This is a challenge based approach that aims to address major issues that affect Europe and elsewhere by bringing together resources and knowledge across different technologies and disciplines.  They follow similar challenges to that of the UK government’s grand challenges on topics such as clean and efficient energy, smart and integrated transport, and inclusive societies.


Will things change in Horizon Europe?

Under the Horizon Europe proposal, the names of the pillars will change to Open Science; Open Innovation; and Global Challenges. Under the Global Challenges pillar, clusters of policy challenges will be funded, including digital and industry; climate energy and mobility; and food and natural resources.

More money is also promised in Horizon Europe, and the European Innovation Council piloted in the latter half of Horizon 2020, will be made permanent, to provide early stage and development based funding instruments for start-ups and companies.


UK industry participation in Horizon 2020

Specific data on manufacturing participation is not currently available. However, private-for-profit entities have received 10% of total EU participations in Horizon 2020. As of Feb 2018, UK SMEs had received €659,97m.

Industry, through pillar 2, received 11.5% of European Commission funding to the theme.


What happens to Horizon 2020 after Brexit?

The technical notice on Horizon 2020 published by the government last month said that UK organisations may not be able to access funding for Horizon 2020 projects after 29 March 2019.

However, the government has committed to underwrite funding for all successful UK bids for EU programmes including Horizon 2020 submitted before the UK’s departure from the EU, for the lifetime of the projects, even if they are notified of their success after exit. The government has assured that this will be upheld whether there is a Brexit deal or there is no deal.

Funding will also be guaranteed by the government for successful bids where UK organisations can participate as a third country.


EEF as the voice of manufacturing will continue to represent the interests of UK manufacturers on this topic and future EU research programmes. EEF's summaries of the government's Brexit technical notices can be found here and will continue to be updated as they are published.



Business Environment Policy Adviser

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