State must seize €1bn opportunity afforded by EU’s Horizon 2020 plan

Ireland can draw down a minimum of €1 billion over the next seven years under the EU research, innovation and science programme Horizon 2020. However, more Irish organisations must participate in the programme.

Experience shows that countries and regions that invest the most in research, innovation and science secure the best economic dividends in the medium to long term. Governments have to be very smart when it comes to planning expenditure, particularly in times of budgetary constraint. But the reality is that investment in research, innovation and science is essential if Europe and Ireland are to maintain jobs and to create employment opportunities – to build on our strengths and become even more competitive.

Ireland has a good story to tell in terms of its involvement in EU research, innovation and science programmes. That said, it can, and must do better. Under the existing EU Research and Technological Framework Programme (FP7) 2007 – 2013, organisations from Ireland have drawn down €572 million to date. An additional €63 million has been secured by private and public sector bodies in Northern Ireland during this same period.

Economic development
These funds are being used to develop the economy during a difficult period for the country: 62 per cent of funding has gone to universities and third-level colleges; 26 per cent to private firms; with the remainder allocated to research institutes and public bodies.

Of this figure, €116 million has been drawn down by Irish small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the information and communications technology (ICT), agriculture and food, health, transport, energy and environmental sectors.

Securing at least €1 billion under Horizon 2020 during the period 2014–2020 is very attainable but to achieve this, several measures must be taken: There needs to be a higher level of engagement from research and third-level colleges in Horizon 2020 who, heretofore, have not been strongly involved in EU research programmes. Many of these bodies could benefit greatly from closer collaboration in framing Horizon 2020 consortia applications.

More companies from the private sector need to participate in Horizon 2020 and this includes a series of public-private partnerships operating in Europe in the fields of aeronautics, fuel cell and hydrogen technologies, innovative medicines, electronics and bio-based industries.

The European Commission, together with EU governments and the European Parliament, have ensured that Horizon 2020 – which is worth almost €80 billion during the period 2014–2020 – will be less bureaucratic.

There will be a single set of rules covering eligibility, accounting and auditing that will guarantee less paperwork for applicants. The length of time from the submission of a proposal to the signature of a grant agreement with a successful consortium will take a maximum of eight months. There will also be a special SME financial instrument to support innovative smaller companies.

Successful consortia
Enterprise Ireland provides a professional advisory service that explains how Horizon 2020 operates, the nature of the calls for proposals and how best to form successful consortia.

This Wednesday marks the first call for proposals under Horizon 2020.

I urge companies that are involved in research, innovation and science to look at this call to identify new opportunities.

The website can be located at  and the help desk will guide participants through the application process.

One of the key advantages of Horizon 2020 participation is the formation of high-level links with research bodies and companies in Europe and worldwide.

To date, European Union research funding has already enabled Irish organisations to pioneer advances to treat diabetes and tackle cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, groundbreaking Irish innovation is working to make energy consumption more efficient by using ICT applications.

I hope that anyone with an excellent idea and drive to innovate will look into opportunities Horizon 2020 offers.