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Background to research policy

European research and innovation policy is always embedded in the overall strategies of current EU policy. The priorities of the current European Commission under the leadership of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are relevant for Horizon Europe:

  • A European Green Deal: Becoming the first climate-neutral continent

  • An economy that serves the people: Social justice and prosperity

  • A Europe for the digital age: Active participation with a new technological generation

  • Promoting our European way of life: Protection of our citizens and our values

  • A more powerful Europe in the world: Consolidating Europe's responsible global leadership role

  • New impetus for democracy in Europe: Promoting, protecting and strengthening our democracy

In particular, the priorities of the European Green Deal as well as A Europe fit for the digital age (incl. the European Industrial Strategy) have a significant influence on the priorities and topics of Pillar II of Horizon Europe. Promoting research and innovation as a whole should in turn contribute to economic growth and job creation in the EU ("An economy that works for the people").

The European Research Area

In addition to the various political strategies of the European Union, the research policy concept of the European Research Area (ERA) has been instrumental in shaping the EU Framework Programs for Research and Innovation since 2000.

The ERA is a central concept of European research policy and funding. The ERA concept is based on the idea of contributing to a more efficient European research and innovation system by networking or coordinating the national science systems with each other and at the EU level.

Key instruments for implementing the ERA concept are the framework programmes for research and innovation at the EU level, as well as (bilateral) research and funding cooperation between governmental and non-governmental research and innovation players at the national level.

The first reflections about the ERA were already under way in the early 1970s, when the German EU Research Commissioner at the time, Ralf Dahrendorf, suggested creating a single European knowledge zone in which the basic principles of cooperation and competition would complement each other in a meaningful way.

The ERA concept first became visible in EU research policy in 2000 with the EU Commission's Communication "Towards a European Research Area", which called for stronger coordination of national policy measures in seven fields of action (e.g. with regard to research infrastructures and the career development and mobility of researchers), among other measures.

The European Research Area (ERA) was embodied in EU primary law with the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force in 2009. The newly created Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides in Article 179 for the creation of a European Research Area with freedom of movement for researchers and the free exchange of scientific knowledge and technology. In principle, EU legislative measures can also be applied to make the ERA a reality (Article 182 (5) TFEU). However, these have not yet been used, particularly in view of the shared competence between the EU and the Member States in the research area and the principle of subsidiarity.

Strategic-political coordination on ERA is conducted in particular in the European Research and Innovation Area Committee (ERAC), an advisory body jointly chaired by the EU Commission and the Member States. The EU Commission has also been publishing regular progress reports since 2013 to monitor progress with the ERA.

Further development of the European Research Area

The EU Commission defines four strategic goals for the ongoing development of the ERA in a communication published on 30 September 2020 entitled "A new ERA for research and innovation":

  • Prioritising investment and reform (including by reaffirming the current 3% target and additional Member State investment targets in the research area)

  • Improving access to scientific excellence (inter alia by dovetailing of research and cohesion funding)

  • Stronger implementation of research and innovation results in the economy (inter alia through guidelines on more effective exploitation of intellectual property rights)

  • Consolidation of the ERA (based on existing ERA priorities: more effective national research systems, optimal transnational cooperation, open labour market for researchers, gender equality, optimal access to or transfer of scientific knowledge, international cooperation)

The EU Commission proposes a host of measures, including a roadmap with 14 individual measures as well as a "Pact for Research and Innovation" to be adopted by the EU Member States (to reaffirm the common values and principles of the ERA) to implement these goals. This pact and a newly established ERA transition forum (in addition to ERAC) are intended to strengthen the governance and monitoring of the ERA in particular.