Horizon 2020

Europe’s new program for research and innovation has many opportunities for those in the field of photonics.
01 April 2012
Thomas Skordas

On 30 November 2011, the European Commission (EC) unveiled Horizon 2020, its proposal for an €80 billion new program for research and innovation (R&I) for the period 2014-20. This represents a 46% budget increase when compared to the current 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7), which runs from 2007 to 2013.

Europe is now faced with a crisis of public debt, low growth, and high unemployment. Europe needs new opportunities for R&I which support and accelerate the recovery and technological transformation of its economy, create jobs, and put Europe back on a path to growth.

At the same time Europe faces major challenges such as an aging population and the depletion of natural resources. This affects all of our lives directly, for example, through high health-care costs, rising energy prices, congested roads, and threats to security.

Horizon 2020 represents a break from the past in order to meet new opportunities and challenges.

It brings together three different EU programs financing R&I under a single program. Its focus will not only be on research but also on innovation, providing possibilities for funded projects to get closer to commercial exploitation.

(The proposed Horizon 2020 budget is based on constant 2011 prices. Taking into account expected inflation through 2020, the proposed research program is estimated at €90 billion.)

All forms of innovation will be included that help turn scientific breakthrougs into innovative products and services, provide business opportunities, and change people’s lives for the better, including innovation in services and social innovation. Support will also be given to develop standards and to the deployment of new technologies in the marketplace, for example, through public procurement of R&I.

To maximize impact, funding in Horizon 2020 will be focused on three key priorities: excellent science, industrial leadership, and societal challenges.

Science receives highest priority

Priority 1, excellent science, will support the world-leading position Europe has in science with a dedicated budget of €24.6 billion. This includes €13.3 billion (an increase in funding of 77%) for the European Research Council (ERC), the European equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the United States. The ERC has already supported Nobel prize-winning scientists, and its grants are widely regarded as a stamp of excellence.

The “Future and Emerging Technologies” scheme will receive €3.1 billion and will be expanded to support unconventional and pioneering science with the potential to be tomorrow’s technologies.

Excellent science depends on developing, attracting, and retaining talent. Through the “Marie Curie” actions, which will receive €5.7 billion, the EU will continue to develop attractive opportunities for young researchers to move across countries and improve their careers at all stages.

Finally, funding of €2.5 billion will also be available to support access to and the networking of high priority research infrastructures across Europe.

Industrial leadership in photonics

Priority 2, industrial leadership, aims to make Europe more attractive for R&I with a dedicated budget of €17.9 billion. This includes a major investment of €13.8 billion in key industrial technologies, such as Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), nanotechnologies, advanced materials, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, and space.

It also includes €3.5 billion which will be used to scale up and expand access to risk finance (i.e., venture capital and loans) for innovative, high-tech companies, and in particular small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition, a dedicated activity of €620 million is foreseen for stimulating all forms of innovation in SMEs, targeting those with the potential to grow and internationalize.

A new, dedicated SME instrument is foreseen here, similar to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) model in the USA.

Overall, Horizon 2020 will encourage and promote funding for innovative SMEs across all areas, and around €6.8 billion will be devoted to SMEs under industrial leadership and societal challenges.

(For more on the job-creating aspects of Horizon 2020, see "Memo from Brussels," from optics.org.)

Societal challenges

Priority 3, societal challenges, will address major concerns shared by all Europeans, with a budget of €31.7 billion spread across six key themes:

  • Health, demographic change, and well-being
  • Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research, and the bio-based economy
  • Secure, clean, and efficient energy
  • Smart, green, and integrated transport
  • Climate action, resource efficiency, and raw materials
  • Inclusive, innovative, and secure societies

Solutions to these challenges require broad, multi-disciplinary collaborations that bring together researchers, industry, public bodies, and users to create innovative solutions that meet peoples’ needs.

Horizon 2020 will support not only research into new technologies and solutions, but also their piloting, demonstration, and market uptake. In this way the full impact of EU funding will be achieved.

International participation in research

Horizon 2020 is built around radically simplified rules and procedures to attract a broader range of innovative enterprises. Examples include: simplified rules for participation and for financing and reduced time-to-grant (by 100 days on average) with earlier project starts.

Horizon 2020 will be open to the world, by facilitating international participation in order to strengthen the EU’s excellence, tackle global challenges jointly, and support EU external policies.

Photonics opportunities

Photonics is one of Europe’s Key Enabling Technologies (KETs). As such, it will be mainly supported under Priority 2, industrial leadership, together with the other five KETs, micro- and nanoelectronics, nanotechnologies, advanced materials, advanced manufacturing and processing, and biotechnology.

As KETs underpin innovation across many industries and sectors, Europe’s ambition is to invest nearly €6 billion in developing industrial capabilities in KETs. For Europe to build and maintain a lead in these technologies requires strategic investments and a multi-disciplinary, knowledge- and capital-intensive approach.

From the €6 billion for KETs, nearly €1.6 billion will be invested in photonics and micro- and nanoelectronics. This is to be compared with the current FP7, where photonics will be receiving a dedicated budget of nearly €500 million.

Horizon 2020 also foresees that the integration of photonics technologies in solutions for the societal challenges shall be supported together with the relevant challenges. For example, biophotonics solutions could be supported under health and well being, photovoltaics, and, possibly, intelligent (O)LED-based lighting solutions under secure, clean, and efficient energy.

Public-private partnerships

Finally, Horizon 2020 makes reference to the possibility of launching a public-private partnership (PPP) in photonics. Such a PPP will mean in practice establishing a partnership based on a contractual arrangement between private sector partners (representing for example the stakeholders of the Photonics21 technology platform), the EU, and possibly other partners.

The partners would commit to jointly support the development and implementation of an R&I program or activities designed to boost industrial competitiveness by stimulating the photonics industry, and in particular SMEs, to make more R&I investments in Europe.

Such activities may include both agenda-driven research and more open areas to promote innovative projects and breakthrough solutions. They may also include large-scale pilots and demonstrations, test beds, prototyping, and product validation in pilot lines.

Following an invitation by Neelie Kroes, the EC commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, the photonics stakeholders are now working closely with the EC to define such a PPP.

In particular, they are working on specifying the concrete objectives of the partnership, respective commitments of the partners, key performance indicators, and outputs to be delivered, including the identification of R&I activities that require support from Horizon 2020. Further progress is expected to be achieved within 2012.

Next steps for photonics in Europe

The EC proposals for Horizon 2020 mark the start of the process to put the new program in place. Over the coming months, the proposals will be negotiated with the European Parliament and the European Council, which are responsible for making the final decisions.

Subject to these negotiations, Horizon 2020 will start on 1 January 2014, with the launch of the first calls for R&I. During the negotiation period, the EC will not only be supporting the negotiations, but also be putting in place the arrangements necessary for a smooth start of the program.

Part of this process will be the launch of the final calls for proposals under the current FP7. These calls should be launched in the second half of 2012 and will help bridge the gap towards Horizon 2020.

Read more about this and other European research projects in SPIE Professional

–Thomas Skordas is head of the EC Photonics Unit, Directorate General Information Society and Media, for the European Union. He studied electrical engineering in Greece and received his PhD in computer science from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble (France) in 1988. He joined the EC in 1995 as a scientific officer and previously worked in France as project leader in EU-funded R&D projects.

The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and in no way represent the view of the European Commission and its services.

Skordas and many of his colleagues at the European Commission’s Photonics Unit, Directorate General Information Society and Media, will be attending SPIE Photonics Europe 16-19 April in Brussels.

Thierry Van der Pyl, director of Directorate G “Components and Systems,” within the Information Society and Media DG, is scheduled to give a plenary talk about Horizon 2020 on 16 April.

Some 1400 presentations are expected to be made in 18 conferences covering optics and photonics technologies.

See the website for SPIE Photonics Europe for more information or the related article about the symposium in this issue.

Learn more about the FP7 programs PLATON and EURO-FOS.

European Summit Urges Gender Equality in Research

SPIE Fellows Zohra Ben Lakhdar and Jürgen Popp were among numerous speakers at the European Gender Summit in Brussels in November 2011 and have signed onto a policy manifesto urging gender equality in European research programs.

The “Manifesto for Integrated Action on the Gender Dimension in Research and Innovation” focuses on concrete actions needed to enhance research and innovation by addressing gender equality issues.


 Zohra Ben Lakhdar (right) with other participants at the European Gender Summit.

Drawing on 25 years of research showing how gender can impact the quality of research and innovation, the manifesto calls for evidence-based actions and further cooperation to fight gender stereotypes.

More information: www.gender-summit.eu/

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

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