Horizon Europe is the largest EU research & innovation programme that has been ever launched to-date by the European Commission. And it is no easy task to figure out which Horizon Europe call best fits a particular project idea. Horizon Europe is also the most ambitious transnational research & innovation programme with a budget of €95.5 billion for a 7-year period (from 2021-2027), including €5.4 billion from the Next Generation EU instrument, particularly to support the green and digital recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
The aforementioned budget is divided amongst three main pillars and numerous clusters and components, aiming to create a programme that will support all the areas of research and innovation: excellent science, global challenges and industrial competitiveness, innovative Europe and widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area. Below, we breakdown these pillars and their subsequent programme components, to give a brief overview of the overall Horizon Europe programme, as well as providing a first screening tool to potential applicants to find the right Horizon Europe call.
Pillar I – Excellent Science
The main goal of Pillar I is to reinforce and expand the excellence of EU’s science base. As such, it is mainly designed for research organizations with a total budget of ~€25 billion for the 7-year period. Its funding focuses on highest quality research in all fields to generate new knowledge information. Pillar I is split to:
- European Research Council (ERC) that will receive the highest share of the allocated budget (~€16.6 billion). ERC has been initially set up in 2007 and it is considered the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It provides attractive and flexible funding to enable talented and creative individual researchers (single beneficiary funding for basic research), with an emphasis on early stage researchers, and their teams to pursue the most promising avenues at the frontier of science, on the basis of EU-wide competition based solely on the criterion of excellence.
- Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) with a proposed budget of ~€6.8 billion is are the European Union’s reference programme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training. Its goal is to equip researches with new knowledge and skills through mobility and training, supporting researcher mobility, as well as providing funding for companies to hire researchers.
- Research Infrastructures (RI) has the lowest budget share (~€2.4 billion), offering funding for integrated and inter-connected world class research infrastructures that can be benefited for instance in testing phases of development.
Pillar II – Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness
Pillar II of Horizon Europe includes the largest share of the programme’s funding. With a budget of €52.7 billion for 2021-2027, it supports the development of new technologies and solving global challenges. It is the most relevant pillar for the industry, supporting cross-European collaborative research and innovation projects, where both industry and academia can be involved. Its main goal is to boost key technologies and solutions, underpinning EU policies and Sustainable Development Goals.
It consists of the following six main clusters and EU’s Joint Research Centre that support EU’s R&I policy: (i) Digital, Industry and Space (€15.3 billion); (ii) Climate, Energy and Mobility (€15 billion); (iii) Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment (€9 billion); (iv) Health (€8.2 billion); (v) Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society (€2.3 billion); and (vi) Civil Security for Society (€1.6 billion). Each cluster has specific Horizon Europe call topics defined in the Work Programme of Horizon Europe. Approximately half of the funding in Pillar II is given to public-private partnerships (PPPs are, in most cases, industry associations that are formed to define what kind of priorities should be funded).
Pillar II also includes European Partnerships that are large European efforts to create greater cooperation and collaboration in reaching strategic targets. A large part of the budget of the Pillar II is allocated through calls that have been formulated in partnership structures.
Under the various clusters and partnerships, applicants can find various Horizon Europe calls, which are open for research organisations, universities, SMEs and industry. The most popular ones are:
- Research and Innovation Action (RIA –100% funding rate, starting from a Technological Readiness Level between 2 and 6) consisting of activities aiming to establish new knowledge and/or to explore the feasibility of a new or improved technology, product, process, service or solution. In these projects the development is still far from a commercial product or service; or
- Innovation Action calls (IA - 70% funding rate, starting from a TRL between 6 and 8) consisting of activities directly aiming at producing plans and arrangements or designs for new, altered or improved products, processes or services. These are close-to-market projects aiming for commercialization soon after the project.
Both RIA and IA usually have a €4-15 million grant size and a typical project duration of three years. Nevertheless, under the partnerships there are also Key Digital Technologies (KDT - underpinning all digital systems, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things) and Circular Bio-based Europe (CBE - the successor of BBI JU, expected to build on the success of BBI JU while stepping up its contribution to the EU’s climate targets, in line with the European Green Deal.) that differ significantly from RIA and IA applications.
Pillar III – Innovative Europe
Although Pillar III has the smallest share of the budget, compared with Pillar I and II (€13.5 billion proposed budget), it is the cornerstone of the new Horizon Europe as it includes the European Innovation Council (EIC - €10 billion) with the very popular EIC Accelerator. More specifically, EIC is consisted of:
- EIC Accelerator supporting scaling up and commercialization of not only Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), but also of individuals and mid-cap companies (among the innovations compared to the former Horizon 2020) with innovative ideas that could create new markets or disrupt existing ones. As in H2020, 70% of the project’s budget is funded by EC, with a maximum grant of €2.5 million (+ optional investment component of max €15 million, in the form of equity funding – blended finance option). The starting TRL is between 5 and 8 and there are various industry areas, split in Digital technologies, Challenges (Health and Green Deal) and the open call for projects that do not apply for any of the previous categories.
- EIC Transition supporting commercialization plans for potential technologies. It funds innovation activities that go beyond the experimental proof of principle in laboratory to supports both: (i) the maturation and validation of your novel technology in the lab and in relevant application environments; and (ii) the development of a business case and (business) model towards the innovation’s future commercialisation. The maximum grant is also of €2.5 million, although there is a 100% funding rate and a lower starting TRL compared to EIC Accelerator (between 4 and 6).
- EIC Pathfinder that supports collaborative research, with the aim to achieve the proof of principle and validate the scientific basis of breakthrough technology (as such, the starting TRL is lower, between 1 and 4). The approach of the call is bottom-up, with emphasis on the specific challenges. The maximum grant is €3 million for the open call and €4 million for the challenge driven one, with 100% funding rate.
Apart from EIC, Pillar III includes the European Innovation Ecosystems (EIE - €500 million), with the main goal to create more connected and efficient innovation ecosystems to support the scaling of companies, encourage innovation and stimulate cooperation among national, regional and local innovation actors.
Pillar III also includes the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT - €3 billion), bringing key actors (research, education and business) together around the common goal for nurturing innovation.