News in Horizon Europe – Part 1

Today, I would like to present the main strategic novelties of this program in comparison with Horizon 2020, in order to help you focus on the important issues. Will you join me?

Horizon Europe structure

I think you will have seen this scheme a thousand times by now. But I have to start with it: the general structure of Horizon Europe. I am not going into detail of each pillar; the National Contact Points from Flanders have done the job for me!! I recommend reading this article with a simple explanation of the main basic points of this structure.

The only thing I want to emphasize here is that it is a continuist structure with three pillars, being undoubtedly the most stable pillar the Pillar 1 of Excellent Science. In later posts we will go into Pillar 3, Innovative Europe, which is the great novelty of this work program, where we find the European Innovation Council (EIC), the Innovation Ecosystems, which give rise to collaboration between regional and national agencies and the European Commission, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

Regarding the budget, the 10th December 2020, the Commission welcomed the political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on Horizon Europe, which will have a budget of around €95.5 billion for 2021-2027 (current prices). This includes €5.4 billion (current prices) from NextGenerationEU to boost our recovery and make the EU more resilient for the future, as well as an additional reinforcement of €4.5 billion (current prices). This represents a 30% increase vis-à-vis the current research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020 (comparing Horizon Europe against Horizon 2020 for EU27, in constant prices) and makes it the most ambitious research and innovation programme in the world.

What I am going to focus on in today’s post is the main novelties that Horizon Europe will bring us.  Anxo Moreira already revealed some of them in the section “A conversation with…” and gave us tips on how to start positioning ourselves so that the arrival of this new structure does not catch us unawares.


It is one of the flagships of Horizon Europe. It comprises 5 areas related to 3 clusters, as follows:

These five main themes on which the missions will focus are as follows:

  • Adaptation to climate change, including social transformation.
  • Health of oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters
  • Smart and climate-neutral cities
  • Soil and food health
  • Cancer

The mission structure is new in Europe but has a long tradition in the USA, Japan and Germany. There are already studies that speak of the effectiveness of these tools.

In the case of Horizon Europe, being the first time that this type of initiative is addressed, a broad consultation process has been carried out for the co-design and co-creation of these tools.

The Mission Board has defined the objectives of the missions, which will have a budget of approximately 10% of Pillar 2 (almost reaching 5 billion euros) in the years 2021-2023, with an evaluation process in 2023. The Strategic Committee where the Member States (MS) are represented and will decide on the calls for the work program (WP). In the case of Spain, we have been contributing to this co-creation process with 5 mirror groups, one for each mission, since May 2019. The staff of these groups are experts in each thematic, staff from ministries and Public Research Organizations, among others. The Spanish position has been incorporated in the missions through 3 publications. The Commission has proposed a transitional phase of one year in which the mirror groups will continue working in the WP. What they will do in this period will be to detect innovative groups or companies that contribute to the portfolio of actions that represent a mission. They will also identify national projects that can be integrated into the missions.  The mirror groups will therefore be in charge of the process of accompanying and detecting the Spanish position to participate with the greatest of guarantees.

The European Commission is currently starting the implementation phase based on the documents prepared by the Mission Board. On the other hand, and simultaneously, they are preparing the first WP. Initially, 5 CSAs will be financed between 2-5 million per project. It will not be known until 2022 which missions will be launched, previously only candidates for these missions will be selected. There will be a series of criteria for this selection that are already defined in Article 7 of the regulation, so it is not only up to the Member States or the Commission to select these missions. The timing of the process is shown below.


They are old friends that we are already used to participating in Europe, although a new, somewhat more simplified environment is being proposed to us. As the first partnerships were launched on FP6, it has reached a point where everything is very complicated, more than 100 initiatives working simultaneously but not in a coordinated way. For newcomers in particular this means a big barrier to entry. What Horizon Europe proposes for these partnerships is the following:

  • Simplification: reduce the number of initiatives as 100 is not feasible. Until now there were 8-9 typologies, now in HE there will be only 3 types, co-programmed (heirs of contractual PPPs), co-funded (heirs of ERANETS, JP) and institutional (articles 185 and 187, not part of Horizon Europe, similar to JTI and KIC of H2020 EIT).
  • New strategic orientation: clear objectives, demonstrating that they are the key instruments for achieving these objectives. To this end, 49 candidates for partnership have been proposed, most of which are integrated into Pillar 2 clusters. In this document you can find the preliminary list. The number 39 is what we know as Eurostars and will be part of the Innovative Europe Pillar. EOSC will be funded from Excellent Science and finally the Pandemic Preparedness and Societal Resilience partnership, it is not known what type of initiative it will be, it is newly created and therefore is in red, pending definition.
  • Common framework: a great novelty included in Horizon Europe is the use of common criteria for all partnerships to be selected, for monitoring, and so that they can be removed from the environment if they are not meeting the objectives.
  • Greater coherence: these initiatives can work together, with common interests, synergies will be promoted between them and also with the WPs of the rest of the calls. They will not work as independently as they have been doing so far.
  • Defined time frame: it is linked to the common framework point, so that it is known when each partnership ends and when it ends in case of not achieving the objectives.

In general, neither the co-programmed nor the co-financed ones will start to be implemented until the end of 2021, and they will not be able to launch calls until 2022. This is not the case for the institutional ones, which have a different regulation, so that between the second and third quarter of 2021, it is possible that some of these initiatives may launch calls for proposals before the end of 2021. In the case of KICs, those that are already launched and operating will continue, but a new call for new KICs will be launched in 2022.

We should keep in mind that up to 50% of the Pillar 2 budget will be implemented through these structures, we would be talking about more budget implemented through these initiatives than we have had on previous occasions, although in an a priori more accessible and orderly way. This again makes learning from these partnerships vitally important for all participants.


Although as always, the European Commission talks about “simplification”, program after program they only change terminology, structures… which is ironic.

This is the scheme we are going to try to explain to understand the whole procedure :

We start from a huge program and we have to go down to the participant’s reality. The most global thing that HE has is the Strategic Framework, which will not change in the next 7 years. It is the basis of the program, the main areas of intervention. It proposes the arrangement of thematic priorities.

Then we have the 4-year Strategic Plan, where global objectives are defined that we want to achieve during that period of time with what is going to be financed in the work programs. This is what we call the Key Strategic Objectives (KSO), which for this first period are the following four:

  1. Promote strategic, open autonomy by leading the development of enabling and emerging digital technologies, sectors and value chains to accelerate and drive digital and green transitions through human-centered technologies and innovations.
  2. Restore Europe’s ecosystems and biodiversity and sustainably manage natural resources to ensure food security and a clean and healthy environment.
  3. Make Europe the first circular, climate-neutral, sustainable and digitally enabled circular economy by transforming its mobility, energy, construction and production systems.
  4. Create a more resilient, inclusive and democratic European society, prepared and responsive to hazards and disasters. Address inequalities and provide high quality healthcare by empowering all citizens to act on ecological and digital transitions.

By crossing the KSOs with the clusters we obtain what is called Expected Impacts. In this first period we have 32 expected impacts, detailed in each cluster. These Expected Impacts will be constant during the 4 years of the strategic plan.

The next document that the participants must know and that will be our “Bible” is the biennial Work Program. This is where the destinations are defined. Transferring the major impacts to more concrete impacts that we are going to find in the topics. In the proposals, for everyone’s peace of mind, we will not be required to explain how our proposal affects the KSOs, but, as always, we will have to make clear how we address the impacts of the topic and, as a novelty, the destinations.

Regarding the timetable for the implementation of the program, the Strategic Plan is almost ready, only the final approval is needed. The first calls for proposals will be launched in April 2021. The topics to be included in the work programs will be less prescriptive a priori. Calls will be more open, leaving the proposer free to design the solution to the problem posed by Europe. This was already the case in H2020, but in HE it will be even more accentuated.

I think that is enough for today, although I still have a lot to tell you about the most “daily” novelties proposed by the new Horizon Europe program. In my next post I will go fully into the news related to the practical aspects of participation: eligibility conditions, technical reports, cost structure, evaluation process. If you don’t want to miss it, subscribe to my blog to find out before anyone else about these novelties that, I can tell you, are going to make us consultants get our act together.

See you next time!

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