10 Nov A conversation with…Andrés Martínez
You have no idea how proud I am of the “A conversation with…” section. Well, yes you do, because I have said it many times! I have had the opportunity to talk to people who have marked a before and after in my professional career and with whom I personally have a special bond. Today’s interview is no exception, but I must say that thanks to Andrés I started what I am today in the European environment. Thanks to him I “believed” that I could really dedicate myself to this. I can only start by saying “thank you Andrés”.
A chat with…Andres Martinez”begins!
The fundamental difference is distance. And I am not referring to geographical distance but to ``mental distance``.
Q: Andrés, to start our talk I would like to ask you about how the world of “European projects” is experienced in Brussels compared to how it is perceived, for example, in Madrid. What main differences do you find when working directly in Brussels? Does the information flow faster and better or is that an “urban legend”?
The fundamental difference is the distance. And I don’t mean geographical distance but “mental distance”. In Spain, most of my CDTI colleagues in Spain are primarily focused on providing the best possible service to Spanish participants. Namely: identifying national priorities and defending them in the European Committees, disseminating opportunities for participation, resolving queries, collaborating in the elaboration of proposals, etc. At the same time, the participants are focused on research and innovation, which is the right thing to do! And meanwhile, at the CDTI office in Brussels (@sost_cdti) we dedicate part of our time to exhaustive monitoring of legislative processes and other European initiatives that could have a potential impact on the field of R&D&I and, by extension, for the Spanish scientific-technological community. In a way, this competitive intelligence allows us to anticipate the priorities that are coming, to share them in real-time with our colleagues in Madrid, and thus be able to face them with better guarantees.
Regarding the last part of your question and although the coronavirus has come to disrupt everything, the presence in Brussels is essential to access first-hand information through informal contacts with relevant European Institutions and Agents. This information flows very well within the different networks of agents involved in R&D&I policies, in our case, the informal network of liaison offices for Research and Innovation issues with presence in Brussels, called IGLO. Personally, I have devoted much effort in recent years to encourage the flow of information among its members and to promote greater collaboration and coordination with other networks of Technology Centers, research institutions, universities, and companies in order to raise the tone and raise a more uniform voice in favor of the interests of European Science and Innovation against lobbies from other areas better organized and with greater reach to European decision-makers. Finally, we would like to highlight the fluid relationship and exchange of information with the Delegations of our Autonomous Communities in Brussels, as well as the contacts we establish with other European regions focused on research and innovation through entities such as ERRIN or EURADA, which allow us to bring our entities closer to the most competitive European innovation ecosystems.
Q: As a representative of CDTI and coordinator of the SOST office in Brussels, your role is undoubtedly fundamental in conveying the Spanish position on science, technology, and innovation to European bodies. I have been lucky enough to train with you and the SOST team and to see the great work you do, but, so that we all know it, could you tell us in general terms what is the work of a national representative in Brussels? What are the main connections you establish with other institutions and networks?
The first thing I want to say is that the European Managers Specialization Program, through which I was able to meet you and share with you the day of our work in SOST, is one of the actions of which we are most proud. Since its inception, back in 2009 under the leadership of my colleague Marina Martinez, we have been able to reach more than 200 managers of European R&D&I programs who have been able to spend between 4 and 8 weeks at SOST and have managed not only to define clearer priorities for action (one of the requirements of any application), but above all to advance their strategic positioning plans in increasingly competitive programs and for which it is essential to have clear medium and long term strategies and nurture contacts with the Commission and its Agencies as responsible for their implementation.
Regarding the defense of the Spanish position on Science and Innovation before the European institutions, we have on the one hand our Research Advisors in the Permanent Representation (REPER) in charge of inter-institutional negotiations and our colleagues in Madrid, Spanish representatives in the different configurations of the Horizon Europe Committees. From SOST, our work is mainly focused on promoting a quality image of Spanish Science and Innovation and on conveying to our international partners (European and third countries) the reliability and leadership of our entities with a view to possible partnerships in European projects. Initiatives such as the Spain S&I event, or Spain means Innovation conference in collaboration with the Spanish Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce or our campaign on social networks did you know, are some of the most notable examples.
We have had a very ambitious European Parliament that has been moderated by a more pragmatic Council, and all this in the midst of what has undoubtedly been the most relevant negotiation in the process of European construction in the last 60 years: NextGeneration EU.
Q: Andrés, one of the questions that most interests us framework program participants is precisely how these programs are developed. You have been working on these issues for a long time and I always wonder what I can do for my researchers and my companies to position them better, without having to wait for a call to be published. It is true that the years of “hard lobbying” and “closed-door meetings” are fortunately behind us, but what advice do you have for participants to be able to have a voice during the process of building framework programs?
My advice is twofold. On the one hand, use the excellent network of support structures that we put at your disposal mainly from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, CDTI and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) to raise your priorities in the different forums and events that we organize. And on the other hand, lose the fear of calling the Commission to tell them what you can contribute in a particular scientific and technological field because yes, contacts with the Commission services and its executive agencies have a positive impact as long as we are able to do them from a perspective of adding value to the various processes of strategic thinking that are carried out within the European Institutions and not as a form of privileged access to information or decision-makers. Moreover, if we want to look for any positive point to the situation brought about by COVID-19, we can say that today, contacts with the different services of the Commission are easier and no longer require mandatory travel and face-to-face meetings. We encourage Spanish participants to take advantage of this new situation and, of course, they can count on the support of CDTI and SOST.
Q: Without a doubt, this year 2021 has been even more special than we expected. The full opening of Horizon Europe has been greatly delayed due to the coronavirus crisis or Brexit, for example. All these delays have a major impact on our R&D&I sectors, which has a much wider gap than expected in terms of funding between programs. Is all this delay normal or do you think that 2020 is taking too much of a toll on the start of Horizon Europe?
I think you said it all in your question. 2020 has been an “extra-ordinary” year in every sense of the word and has made the already complex negotiations of the European budget 2021-2027 and in particular Horizon Europe even more difficult. On the one hand, we have had a very ambitious European Parliament that has been moderated by a more pragmatic Council, and all this in the midst of what has undoubtedly been the most important negotiation in the process of European construction in the last 60 years, the Recovery and Resilience Plan framed in the so-called NextGeneration EU policy. In any case, in my opinion, the final budget of Horizon Europe is still ambitious, also taking into account that we will have to add the important contributions of the countries that will finally be associated to it, such as the United Kingdom and perhaps other world-class countries such as Canada, Japan, Australia, etc. in addition to the 16 countries that were already associated to Horizon 2020 (with the doubt of Switzerland), which could increase it by around 15% more. And once again, we can see a positive side to the delay in the opening of some of the first Horizon Europe calls and recommend Spanish entities to intensify contacts with their European partners in order to organize consortia as competitive as possible and give shape to their project ideas.
We are working on the re-launching of the Specialization Program for Managers.
Q: Of course, Andrés, I would like to talk to you about the operational and fieldwork that CDTI does in Brussels with the participants. I had the good fortune to be a beneficiary of the famous “manager specialization program” and to work with you and your team for several months to improve the positioning of the institutions for which I was working at the time. Is it expected that a similar program will be launched for Horizon Europe? Any institution or company that wants to develop a “field” work from Brussels on its own initiative can count on SOST to do so?
We are working on the re-launching of the Specialization Program for Managers which, as I said before, is one of the initiatives we are most proud of due to its unquestionable impact and the excellent return we receive from the beneficiaries. For the time being, we are resuming this initiative by organizing at the end of 2020 a virtual edition of the same which, although incomparable, allowed us to bring together again a good part of the “family” of managers who, like you, have passed through Brussels in the last 11 years and thus be able to tell you the main novelties of the new Horizon Europe program. We hope in any case to relaunch a new version of the program in the coming months, but in the meantime, our door is always open as you well know and I invite any entity that has a strategic plan that needs to develop in Brussels, to contact us to assess how and when we can intervene and support from SOST.
Q: Although you know I could talk to you for hours and hours, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I would like to close this fantastic conversation by asking you for some tips or thoughts that may come to your mind and that we can apply when it comes to betting on participation in European calls. Are these opportunities for everyone? What main variables should we take into account to take the step? Who can we rely on?
In my opinion, no. Horizon Europe is not for everyone because, in addition to unquestionable scientific-technological excellence, you need a good network of contacts that allow you to access the best consortia with greater chances of success. That said, my advice is not to give up easily. If an entity is clear that Horizon Europe can reinforce or complete its research or innovation process, it should contact the wide network of National Contact Points that will help it to assess its possibilities and can advise it on the opportunity to devote efforts to the always costly process of preparing a proposal to a program as highly competitive as this one. On the other hand, the program continues to open up to new actors such as start-ups and spin-off research centers with disruptive ideas or entities such as cities, NGOs, end users with the capacity to exploit results in real environments. By way of conclusion, let me tell you that there are opportunities beyond Horizon Europe that could perhaps be better adapted to the needs of a given entity and that should be assessed as well. In fact, @CDTIoficial has a very significant number of programs aimed at promoting innovation in our companies alone or in collaboration with entities both nationally and internationally that should be assessed.
Horizon Europe is not for everyone... That said, my advice is not to give up easily. If it is clear to an entity that Horizon Europe can reinforce or complete their research or innovation process, they should contact the extensive network of National Contact Points.
I sincerely believe that we are privileged to have people like Andrés and Marina “sticking up for us” on a daily basis in Brussels. What I value most about the work of SOST and Andrés, in particular, is the true vocation and dedication they put into everything they do. Who would have thought that I would have the shamelessness to ask the Representative of the Center for the Development of Industrial Technology in Brussels to dedicate part of his time to me for this interview? Okay yes, you know that I’m a pretty “go-getter”, but in reality, it’s all because Andrés works side by side with the participants. Through a relationship of trust, which for me is fundamental both at work and of course on a personal level. This is the spirit that is breathed in SOST when I have had the opportunity to be physically working with them: camaraderie, sincere interest in helping and in “doing well”, and a knowledge of international R&D policy that is difficult to find anywhere else in the world.
Andrés has given us extremely valuable keys to understanding, in an easy way, the complexity of science policy and what is to come in the next 7 years. In Spain, we must “get rid of the complex” of knocking on the door of the European Commission and say everything we are capable of doing for innovation and research in Europe. We are a country with solid science, brutal innovation potential, with very well-connected actors, with great working capacity, and with the luck to have offices like SOST and people like Andrés who are at the distance of a simple email to help us get where we want.
Andres, you know you can’t get rid of me…see you in Brussels!
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