Externalisation, the idea of shifting responsibility for administering grants out of the European Commission, is a big theme of Horizon 2020. ‘Programme Co-fund Actions’, having the appearance of ERA-NET-PLUSs, will encourage Member States to set up transnational calls in particular areas. Horizon 2020 rules will allow the EC to commit much more funding to such instruments in relation to Member State contributions than was possible in FP7. The danger of delegating the management of Horizon 2020 money to these structures is that it will no longer be paid out strictly to the best projects. Instead the ability of the Member States participating in the programme co-fund action to provide co-funding will play a role in selection. We would prefer externalisation to be achieved through greater use of executive agencies accountable to the European Commission.
Horizon 2020 should make greater use of ‘bottom-up’ calls that will fund smaller projects (both in number of partners and budget). The European Parliament proposes a ‘Fast-track to innovation’ instrument that looks similar to the current ‘FET open’. Earmarked budgets for different renewable energy technologies, defined at the start of Horizon 2020, are a precondition for this to work successfully. If ‘Fast-track to innovation’ is not adopted, Horizon 2020 should nonetheless make greater use of FET calls in the energy domain.
The SET Plan gave us EIIs, EERA, SETIS and the SET Plan Steering Group. Care must be taken not to build silos around EIIs and EERA, for example by consulting them separately on research strategy. Research strategy is best formulated when it takes account of the views of all relevant actors simultaneously. European Technology Platforms are the forum for this (where no Joint Undertaking exists).
SETIS is a promising initiative. The SET Plan Steering Group, on the other hand, has had limited impact, and could be revived by bringing into it Member State officials responsible for handling Structural Funds. It should ensure that ESFRI Roadmap research infrastructure gets built.
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