Microfab lab, TU Eindhoven. © Bart van Overbeeke Photography
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The European Union (EU) must drastically increase the budget for research and innovation. That is the view of Jan van den Biesen, an independent Dutch policy advisor. Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020, is the latest program where European scientists and research projects can secure funding. Its due to start next year, but the EU member states are still in disagreement about the budget. Amounts ranging from €80 to €120 billion over a seven-year period are ‘being cited. “Even if the highest possible amount is approved, Horizon Europe is just a drop in the ocean.”

Van den Biesen explains: “Horizon Europe accounts for a mere 2% of the total amount spent on research and development (R&D) in the Member States.” For many years already since the inception of research programs within the European Union he has been involved in their formulation and implementation. First as a researcher and then as a policy advisor.

No future-proof budget

“The EU does not have such a future-oriented budget”, Van den Biesen states. The amount made available for the current framework program is less than 8% of the total EU budget. The largest expenditure items are agricultural funds and the Cohesion Policy. The latter is aimed at improving infrastructure in the new member states. amongst other things. Combined, these items already account for roughly two-thirds of the budget. “These long-standing costs and targets are still considered more important than research and innovation within the EU,” he says. “In order to free up more of the budget for Horizon Europe, without causing an overall increase in the EU budget, it would be necessary to cut back on the two main expenditure items -according to the Dutch. Not all member states support that.”

And that while research and innovation form the basis of prosperity and well-being in Europe. Or perhaps even the whole world. Universities and knowledge organizations have long been active in fundamental and applied research. According to Van den Biesen, a significant part of the revenue from many companies is reinvested in research and development in order to foster innovation. The Dutch government also finances quite a few research projects itself. There is regional support as well. All in all, that’s a pretty hefty source of money. The European Union makes a comparatively small contribution via the framework program. Nonetheless, Van den Biesen believes that Brussels plays a major role, especially when it comes to European cooperation in the field of research and innovation.

You can read more about the role of Horizon Europe within the TU/e in this article.

Collaboration makes research and innovation more efficient

Thanks to the framework program, universities, knowledge organizations and companies can easily find each other when they want to work together.” We avoid fragmented research this way, instead we pool our resources,” he says. Universities and companies in Europe often have a specific expertise or a specific field of research. Innovation is not tied to international borders or sector limits. “Products and services reach the market faster if we work together with clear agreements about who does what. It also allows us to keep costs down,” he explains. “In addition, we can set ourselves compelling goals that each party is capable of contributing to.”

To sum up: If we want to remain at the forefront in Europe, we must continue to invest in research and innovation. This calls for funding from public authorities across various governmental levels, from European to regional. But companies and knowledge organizations also need to play their part. “Only by working together can we achieve new technologies that will contribute to a world that is habitable, both in economic and social terms.”