Moedas unveils ambition to create new innovation funding body

Nuala Moran, Science Business reporter, looks at how the European Commission's Research Commissioner wants to set up a European Innovation Council to fund excellent innovators, in the same way as the European Research Council backs excellent scientists.

Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas has called for the creation of a European Innovation Council – a new funding body to support applied research - that will aim to mirror the European Research Council’s success as a funder of excellent basic science.

In what sounded like a direct criticism of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, Moedas said, “Europe does not yet have a world class scheme to support the very best innovations in the way that the European Research Council is the global reference for supporting excellent science.”

“I would like us to take stock of the various schemes to support innovation and SMEs under Horizon 2020, to look at best practice internationally, and to design a new European Innovation Council,” Moedas told the European Commission’s Innovation Conference in Brussels this week.

The suggestion of a European Innovation Council was the centrepiece of what can be seen as Moedas’ manifesto for his term in office, following eight months of what he described as, “listening, visiting member states, looking at the evidence, and developing my own views.”

The putative European Innovation Council is not on the drawing board yet, but it already has the ring of a legacy project, being floated in a keynote speech in which the Commissioner set out what he said are, “my own ambitions for the coming years.” He told delegates the idea for the new innovation funding body should be taken forward as “a major element” under the mid-term review of Horizon 2020.

The three ‘Os’

In the meantime, Moedas will be working to chart a new path for European research and innovation policy that is, “fit for a world that is open, digital and global.”

This will start the second chapter in the development of the European Research Area, Moedas said. After 15 years devoted to creating the physical infrastructure and regulations to support cross-border mobility for researchers, it is time to further open up research and innovation systems by bringing together the physical and the digital, and to recognise there is a revolution happening in the way science works.

“Every part of the scientific method is becoming an open, collaborative and participative process,” Moedas said, intoning a new mantra, of, “Open innovation, open science, openness to the world.”

The Commissioner said he would like to go, “further and faster towards open innovation” involving more people in the innovation process, from researchers, to entrepreneurs, users, governments and civil society. “We need open innovation to capitalise on the results of European research and innovation. This means creating the right ecosystems, increasing investment, and bringing more companies and regions into the knowledge economy,” Moedas said.

The first requirement is to do more to create a regulatory environment for innovation to flourish. “How do we make sure legislative processes that take several years can adapt to technologies that evolve every month? How do we make sure regulation is based on an innovation principle, as well as a precautionary principle?” said Moedas.

Secondly, the Commissioner wants to address the shortage of venture capital in Europe “head on” through the development of one or several European fund of funds. At the same time, new actions are needed to get more innovation impact out of Horizon 2020. One way is to create real synergies with the Structural Funds, Moedas said, promising a "seal of excellence" for applicants that are evaluated as excellent but cannot obtain financing from Horizon 2020, to help them access Structural Funds.

The idea has been around for a while – Moedas talked about it at length in an interview with Science|Business back in March, but here for the first time it sounded like the seal will create a route between the two funding programmes. The announcement came as competition for funding is increasing, with new data showing the average odds of getting a grant from the EU’s €77 billion Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme have fallen to between 12-14 per cent, down from 19-21 per cent just two years ago in Framework Programme 7.

Replicating excellence

Moedas also set out an ambition to see the European Research Council’s standing as a beacon of excellence replicated throughout Horizon 2020.

To lay the ground for this, the Commission is preparing a call for the European Science Cloud Project to provide more open access to research results and the underlying data. This will mean setting standards for the management, interoperability and quality of scientific data.

“I would like to see progress on this in next 12 months. And I will want to see what further support or requirements for open data should be introduced in Horizon 2020 following the mid-term review,” Moedas said.

In addition, the Commission is looking to improve the standing of the research it funds, with Moedas saying a new European Research Integrity Initiative, with clear standards and mechanisms to tackle scientific misconduct, will be launched by the end of this year. “This will not only boost scientific excellence, but it will show to the public that European science is above reproach,” he said.

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