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Update on International Cooperation in the Last Work Programme of Horizon 2020

Publication date: 
8 January 2018 (UK time)

​This article provides the latest information on international cooperation in Horizon 2020, with particular focus on the Commission's plans to tackle low participation of third countries in the 2018-2020 Work Programme.

Policy context and rules for participation

International cooperation (INCO) in R&I is a key element of Horizon 2020 and an important priority for the European Commission. The 2012 Strategy for Enhancing International Cooperation in R&I recognises the need for tackling common societal challenges together with international partners and that R&I supports many of the external policies of the EU. Consequently, participation in Horizon 2020 is by default open to any country in the world (with some exceptions like the SME Instrument and the Fast Track to Innovation scheme), even though not every country is automatically eligible to receive funding from Horizon 2020. Apart from the generic 2012 Strategy, several political roadmaps exist in specific areas (e.g. the FNSSA or the CCSE Roadmaps for EU-Africa cooperation in the areas of agriculture and sustainable energy). Furthermore, specific roadmaps identifying mutual areas of interest between the EU and certain third countries and regions were published in October 2016.

The rules for participation have not changed for the last three years of the programme, which means that only organisations based in countries mentioned in Annex A to the 2018-2020 Work Programme can automatically receive funding, while legal entities based in the developing economies (e.g. BRIC counties and Mexico) and industrialised countries (e.g. Canada, USA, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, etc.) will only receive it in exceptional cases. Therefore, they must either cover their own participation in projects or rely on funding provided by their national funders. A small number of full, thematic or regional co-funding mechanisms have been negotiated by the Commission with some third countries to facilitate the participation of researchers from outside Europe in Horizon 2020.

INCO state of play and main findings from the Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020

Despite its openness to the world, the first years of Horizon 2020 saw a drop in the participation of legal entities from third countries in collaborative projects when compared to its predecessor (3.1% in H2020, 5% in FP7). The Interim Evaluation revealed that passive openness of the calls for collaborative projects does not have the desired effect and that more targeted calls and greater visibility of the INCO elements of specific topics are needed. Therefore, strengthening the international cooperation aspects of Horizon 2020 is an important priority for the Commission in the period 2018-2020.

As part of its efforts to help facilitate the participation of third countries in Horizon 2020, the Commission negotiated the creation of nine co-funding mechanisms (full or partial) with countries such as China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil or Canada. Unsurprisingly, the Interim Evaluation revealed a smaller drop in participation from countries that have well-functioning co-funding mechanisms in place (e.g. China and Brazil), thus confirming the importance of secured funding in the third countries.

There are currently 16 non-EU countries fully associated to Horizon 2020 (including, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Tunisia, Georgia, etc.). However, major differences are visible in terms of their participation in the programme and it has been discovered during the Interim Evaluation that association of countries with less advanced R&I systems is not automatically translated into increased participation of legal entities from these countries in projects. For example, to date, Norway recorded 314 participations in projects, while Georgia only 14, the Faroe Islands seven and Armenia five.

Furthermore, INCO forms an important element of some of the Article 185 initiatives (public-public partnerships), which receive funding from Horizon 2020, including European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), EUREKA (Eurostars) and the recently created Partnership for R&I in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA), with contributions from several Mediterranean countries, including Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Morocco.

Lastly, the European Research Council (ERC) now has ten Implementing Arrangements in place allowing researchers from the USA, South Korea, Argentina, China, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and India to join ERC-funded teams in Europe for a limited period, thus further promoting international collaboration. Additionally, schemes such as the ERC grants or the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships attract a very high number of third country nationals to Europe.

International Cooperation Flagship Initiatives in the 2018-2020 Work Programme

To help tackle the low participation of third countries in the last Work Programme of Horizon 2020, the Commission introduced the so-called International Cooperation Flagship Initiatives that UKRO had previously reported on. The INCO Flagships are research initiatives recognised by the EU and the relevant partner country as political priorities of mutual interest, which are eventually translated into specific calls for proposals in Horizon 2020. These dedicated calls are intended to give more prominence to international cooperation in the programme by targeting cooperation with specific (groups of) countries outside of the EU and the Commission estimates that more than €1 billion will be dedicated to approximately 30 INCO Flagships over the next three years.

European Network of Research and Innovation Centres and Hubs

Another important tool intended to help tackle the low participation of third countries in Horizon 2020 is the so-called European Network of Research and Innovation Centres and Hubs (ENRICH), composed of three centres/hubs in Brazil, China and the USA, which were created following a competitive call for proposals under Societal Challenge 6 of Horizon 2020. After the initial set up phase during 2017, the centres (each of them is a separate H2020 project) are now expected to provide a wide range of services to European researchers and innovators, for example, searching for collaborators in these countries.

International Cooperation Service Facility

Lastly, a new INCO Service Facility is part of the Commission's plan to foster international cooperation in the last years of Horizon 2020 by providing a wide range of harmonised services (e.g. information campaigns in third countries, analyses and studies, etc.), which are expected to result in reinforced international cooperation, improved framework conditions for collaboration, enhanced impact of research and innovation project results, as well as improved profile of EU research and innovation policy and programmes across the globe.