The future of the next European research framework program FP10

FP10: A Research Framework Program Fit for the Future

The ongoing polycrisis must not stop or delay research and innovation (R&I) efforts to bring about the necessary transition to a sustainable and digital economy that will secure long-term value creation and industrial competitiveness in Europe. Europe’s ambition to solve the most pressing societal challenges such as the climate crisis can only be fulfilled by increased political and monetary support for R&I. Collaboration among European countries and all societal stakeholders are essential in tackling these challenges and build up on Europe’s strengths making them fit for the future in a globally competitive landscape. Facilitating a budget that empowers R&I must be a priority for the European Union. This secures Europe’s capabilities to research, develop, and bring innovation to the market for the benefit of European citizens. Therefore, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft welcomes and strongly supports the call for a ringfenced R&I budget of 200 billion euros for the next framework program (FP10).

Fraunhofer position paper on the future of FP10

Fraunhofer input to the High-Level Expert Group on the Interim Evaluation of Horizon Europe

1 Form follows function: a new coordinating governance structure

To support a vivid European R&I ecosystem, that generates innovation to solve societal challenges, an FP needs to be created, where form follows function. Instead of shifting responsibility to solve simultaneously everything to the researchers, which is reflected in overloaded and overly broad calls, political prioritization is needed. Prioritizing the green and digital transformation will establish sufficient directionality. The FP needs a clearer mission-orientation, meaning the alignment of the FP with overarching societal goals such as the Green Deal or Digital Europe, where research, industry, society, and politics jointly contribute to. To be precise, the missions as instrument developed in Horizon Europe are not the same as the concept of mission-oriented research.

Exploiting the full potential of R&I must not be guided by silos in the political institutions. We need the effective incorporation of the research community and industry in the development of FP10. This includes transparent and simple as possible, vertically and horizontally integrated cooperation formats with and between executive agencies and DGs (e.g., more personal exchange, more cluster events). Unnecessary duplication in funding activities must be avoided, as has recently occurred by various instruments within the FP (e.g., missions, clusters, partnerships, EIT) and of further DGs. Additionally, successful project results and valuable experience from research must be integrated in the policy development in a structured way. 

2 Increase the attractiveness of the FP for all R&I actors

Fraunhofer is convinced that research for and with industry must remain a central and dedicated part of the FP. Continuity and coherence across thematic priorities in accordance with regulatory initiatives create long-term reliability for research-performing organizations and industry. The FP must focus on revitalizing the European R&I ecosystem and serve as a concerted toolbox to enhance industrial competitiveness in strategic important technology fields along the entire value chains. This toolbox must include a balanced mix of instruments for lower TRL and higher TRL. The funding formats must refrain from being overly prescriptive and expecting unrealistic impacts. They need to be open to all kinds of technological innovation that create societal impact and competitive advantages and include a coherent instrument to bridge the gap between research and market application. To improve industry participation and accelerate research and development cycles, the program can benefit from learning from successful examples where project cycles were shortened by reducing the time from proposal to grant.

3 A permeable research framework program enabling transfer

Collaborative, pre-competitive research projects have proven to be an effective format in contributing to Europe’s R&I ambition. To maximize the impact of FP10, the permeability of research projects from basic research to pre-competitive research collaborations to the transfer into innovative products and services in Europe must be increased. Other innovation systems are more efficient in building, growing, and scaling up highly innovative spin-offs and start-ups than Europe. In Horizon Europe the fragmentation of transfer instruments evokes additional complexity, lacks transparency and clarity, and creates a bureaucratic overhead (see below EIT/EIC). Barriers must be reduced by consolidating transfer initiatives and establishing a systematic, reliable, and reproducible innovation pathway for start-ups and spinoffs. Additionally, transfer in FP10 must get targeted funding for collaborative projects. First initiatives such as the plug-in programs for RTOs tech transfer programs to the EIC Accelerator are a positive development which must now be built upon.

4 Embrace European Partnerships and EIC, bid farewell to Missions and EIT

The toolbox of existing R&I instruments needs a critical assessment about their functioning. European Partnerships effectively integrate R&I with the potential for industrial scale-up. It is essential to increase transparency, simplify administrative burdens and guarantee feasible financing mechanisms (e.g., in-kind additional activities, cash contributions). Both need to be developed and approved upon in close consultation with industry and the research community. To streamline and simplify processes, it is crucial for all partnerships, including co-funded ones, to incorporate their entire implementation into the F&T Portal. Synergies cannot be an end in itself but need to be feasible for the Partnerships and impactful to their SRIAs.

The complex governance structures and separate work programs of EU Missions lead to more fragmentation. EU Missions have not been beneficial for a mission-oriented research approach that is integral to FPs. For FP10, Fraunhofer supports the expiration of the current EU Missions and welcomes the discontinuation of the concept of separated missions.

The EIT and its KICs have become overly complex and costly, making it difficult for KIC members to participate due to unrealistic expectations. The EIT fails to provide added value to Europe's innovation ecosystems, in contrast to the European Partnerships and the EIC. Fraunhofer supports the dissolution of the EIT and the financial independence of the KICs or their discontinuation if proven not successful.

The scope and scale of research conducted in the FPs must be supported by a dedicated instrument for the maturation of technology as part of a coherent approach to foster innovation. In general, the EIC has fallen short of the expectations raised in its inception since it mainly merged old program lines (such as FET and the SME instrument) into a new administrative structure. To realize its full potential, the EIC must be modified accordingly.

For a deep-dive into our position on the EIT, find an additional paper on the right.

5 Get simplification done for beneficiaries

Accessing FP10, writing proposals, forming excellent European consortia and conducting European research must be as simple as possible for researchers and the research supporting staff. It is crucial to effectively integrate the perspective of program participants into the planning and implementation of simplification measures in FP10. For instance, the current use of lump sums for project consortia has not resulted in the desired simplification, increasing insecurity regarding audits and the administrative work for researchers.*

Changes in funding conditions and simultaneously increasing management costs lead to a net loss for coordinators of EU projects. Because coordination does not result in a direct gain in knowledge, this has made project coordination increasingly unattractive. The coordination of projects by excellent research organizations must be reimbursed through full-cost funding for management activities in EU projects.

The evaluation of proposals must continue to follow the highest standards and professionalism to uphold a distinct European R&I landscape. Increased transparency in the evaluation reports will help to increase the accountability and improve future proposals.

* EARTO: EARTO-Position-Paper-on-Lump-Sums-Dashboard-8-January-2024-Final.pdf