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01.06.14| How will Horizon 2020 fight the Innovation divide? Interview with Dimitris Corpakis, Head of Unit, DG Research & Innovation, European Commission

Dimitri CorpakisAhead of WIRE2014, we asked Dr. Dimitris Corpakis, Head of Unit, DG Research & Innovation, to explain how Horizon2020 will contribute to closing the research and innovation divide in Europe. It is estimated that out of a total of 266 regions in the EU, only 35 had in 2009 an R&D intensity (R&D investment as a % of their GDP) above 3%. Taken together these 35 regions accounted for 45% of all R&D expenditure in the EU. According to EUROSTAT regional yearbook 2012, 10 of the most R&D intensive regions in 2009 were located in the Nordic member States, totalising 9,3% of total R&D expenditure in the EU.

Dr. Dimitris Corpakis stresses that addressing the innovation disparities in European Regions is one of the priorities in the Cohesion policy of Europe2020 and highlights the  need for wider participation and synergies in Horizon 2020.

Which are the tools that increase the linkages and connections between research, innovation and industry in Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 is heavily oriented on innovation and this means that it favours strong partnerships between academia and industry (largely facilitated by government), along the full project cycle for activities it will support. This is particularly true in the areas of Leadership for Industrial Technologies (LEITS) and Societal challenges. In addition, public – private partnerships like the recently adopted JETIS (Innovation investment Package) will provide increased opportunities for building bridges across academia and industry in an innovation-driven process.

The results of the recent innovation union scoreboard show major disparities in Member States’ innovation performance. Why is the innovation divide widening and how Horizon 2020 will deal with this?

The persisting innovation divide is the cumulative effect of inefficient framework conditions prevailing for years in the less performing Member States. A combination of underinvestment in Research and Innovation and a rigid or inappropriate environment for scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs, keep those countries either out of the global value chains or allocate them a secondary marginal role that does not allow them to play their role as appropriate and interact where the real action is. This calls for major structural reforms.

Horizon 2020 will fight the innovation divide, first through its overall new approach on innovation, and market orientation. However it is also deploying a particular strand on Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation (Teaming, Twinning and ERA Chairs) that together with additional softer measures (such as the reinforcement of the NCP [1]network, the establishment of a Policy Support Facility and a new orientation of the well-known COST intergovernmental cooperation framework in science and technology) is expected to have a significant impact on reducing the innovation divide.

What are the challenges that Horizon 2020 poses for less developed regions?

Horizon 2020 marks a departure from FP7 since it has no actions on regions as such, since it focuses mainly on industry, people and institutions. It has also left all cohesion aspects to Cohesion Policy (European Structural and Investment Funds). However, small research and innovation players (which are likely to be located in non-metropolitan / less developed regions) will have increased opportunities for participation, for example using the New SME Instrument, the new financial engineering schemes and the Fast-Track to Innovation Pilot (as of 2015). But while Horizon 2020 has no measures for less-developed regions, the Commission has geared the new European Structural and Investment Funds closer to supporting research and innovation investment (especially in the less-developed regions). This is expressed through a consistent design of Smart Specialisation Strategies[2] (that will increase development opportunities stimulating the knowledge-based economy in all regions) and a targeted approach to the basic components of a well designed innovation strategy through the so-called Thematic Concentration principle, whereby regions have to devote between 50 to 80% of their total ERDF allocation to just 4 out of the 11 Thematic Objectives (Research and Innovation, ICT, the Low-Carbon Economy and SME Competitiveness).  Making the most out of the ESIF for Research and Innovation in the less developed regions was never more on top of their agenda: there are enormous opportunities to be seized here that would certainly transform the local economies.

Another major goal for Horizon 2020 is wider participation. How this will be achieved? How can we get more participation in European Research and innovation?

The political debate that followed the publication of the FP7 Interim Evaluation Report led to the part of Horizon 2020 on ‘Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation’. This set of actions aims at providing a tool to less performing countries in terms of Research and Innovation to improve their assets and become more competitive in international terms. While the actions themselves are open to all Member States (and Associated ones) , only organisations from the identified list of Low-performing countries (see the published Work Programme on Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation for 2014-15) can introduce proposals as Coordinators and be also the hosts of the actions (main action has then to be located in the territory of these Member States or Associated States fulfilling the same criteria). The Widening actions aim collectively to raise excellence in the participating institutions and increase the exposure  of the participating researchers to cross-border science networks. The Commission considers that these measures will have an overall beneficial effect to the less performing countries.

What synergies can you see between horizon 2020 and Cohesion policy funds?

The Commission services have worked for the first time closely together to deliver concrete opportunities for synergies across the two very different policy frameworks of Horizon 2020 and Cohesion policy. Both regulations carry significant references and guidance for effective synergetic actions that can be deployed using the one or the other framework. The first priority for effective synergies on the ground concerns increasing investment in research and innovation, through the ESIF in a context of a genuine Smart Specialisation Strategy. Member States using the appropriate programming action can take initiatives in the context of their Operational Programmes , first in an upstream mode (preparing their stakeholders to participate better in the competitive actions of Horizon 2020 as well as to other similar  actions at global scale, creating the appropriate framework conditions for innovation) and second in downstream mode (working on exploitation and dissemination of research and innovation results, streamlining commercialisation of knowledge and developing market oriented approaches).

For the first time also, interested parties can use combined funding from the FP as well as the ESIF in the same project, provided that the same cost item is not presented for reimbursement twice under the 2 frameworks. In this way, local impacts of transnational projects can be greatly enhanced.

How Horizon 2020 will stimulate Smart Specialisation Strategies?

Horizon 2020 has not set Smart Specialisation as an objective, since this is a place-based strategy for economic growth based on research and innovation (Horizon 2020 by definition disregards the location factor). However, there is some scope for support in the context of specific thematic areas: once the Smart Specialisation Strategies of the Member States are finalised, it would be possible to identify the dominant trends in terms of technological priorities and innovation strategies.  Horizon 2020 could then be selectively focus in some of these areas , thus providing an additional way of exploring and reinforcing particular themes, of crucial importance to the place-based innovation strategies. Moreover, under the part on ‘Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation’ the Commission expects a tight integration among the three selected areas (Teaming, Twinning and ERA Chairs) and the Smart Specialisation Strategies of the eligible Member States.

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