The European Commission published, on 11 December, the first calls for projects under the new framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020. For the first time, the funding priorities are announced for a period of two years, enabling researchers and businesses to be more certain about the direction of the Union's research policy. Another novelty is the simplification of the application process and of the funding scheme.
Presenting the results of more than two years of intense political discussions and "endless negotiations," Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said that "Funding for research is sorely needed: by researchers, who are finding national budgets squeezed, by businesses, which need to remain competitive on global markets, and by citizens, for whom we need to find solutions to a number of societal challenges". Horizon 2020 has a total budget of 78.6 billion over the period 2014-2020. Some 15 billion will be spent in the next two years. The first set of calls for participation presented by the Commission is actually just a start: more projects will follow, as some are still awaiting official approval, while others will depend on the approval of the 2015 annual budget.
For the next two years, the Commission will apply a different method than in the previous framework programme. "The EU badly needs new ideas. The real innovation of Horizon 2020 resides in our new challenge-based approach: we identify the problems and ask researchers and businesses to find the best way to get the job done," Geoghegan-Quinn said. A Commission official described Horizon 2020 as "much less prescriptive," as it only describes the objective, scope and expected output of the projects. Furthermore, Horizon 2020 will be more flexible: Geoghegan-Quinn assured that if new issues arise over the next seven years, the programme will easily be able to refocus its priorities.
Throughout the drafting of Horizon 2020, simplification has been a key consideration. With a single set of rules for participation, fewer and more flexible funding instruments and a single reimbursement rate, the programme should ease the administrative burden on research and innovation organisations. With a bigger budget than its predecessors and a simpler application process, Horizon 2020 is expected to attract more newcomers, triggering fiercer competition for EU funding. The success rate for applicants is currently 22%. Under Horizon 2020, it is expected to drop to 15%.