What is Horizon 2020?

Elena, smiling at the cameraElena Dennison is a Research Development Officer at the University of Sussex currently working exclusively on Horizon 2020 preparations ahead of its launch in January 2014.

A journalist by trade, she has been working in Research Development in the Social Sciences for the last three years. She is currently immersed in all things Europe, digesting convoluted European policy jargon into meaningful narratives to engage academic colleagues, and encourage them to participate and benefit from Horizon 2020 funding.

The Research Whisperers are in Australia, so Horizon 2020 is a bit of a mystery to us. When we heard that Elena was working on it, we asked her for some help.

Going it alone is not an option in research and innovation. It is critical that Europe reaches out to international partners to access new sources of knowledge and address global challenges. Horizon 2020 will, like its predecessors, be open to participation from across the globe.
    Márie Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

What is Horizon 2020?

A blue flag with the European Union's 12 yellow stars
European Flag, by Rock Cohen on Flickr

Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s main funding programme for Research and Innovation. It will succeed the current funding programme, Framework Programme 7 (FP7) due to finish at the end of this year.

It will run from January 2014 until 2020, with an agreed[1] budget of 70.2 billion Euros. It represents EU funding for research and innovation on a large scale; a programme for all types of actors involved in research and innovation: academia, research, industry and other stakeholder organisations.

Horizon 2020 structure

Horizon 2020 is structured under three main pillars. There are opportunities for individual researchers and groups of researchers to apply for funding in each of these pillars. The choice of pillar and underlying programme depends on what a researcher is looking for in terms of the size of project, whether it is basic or applied research, or whether someone is interested in moving to another country.

The three pillars are:

Pillar 1: Excellent Science. Excellence is the only criterion in this mostly bottom-up pillar. Under this pillar four different schemes are available:

  • European Research Council (ERC). Excellent researchers with outstanding track records can apply to the ERC to carry out the frontier research project of their choice. Grants are available to researchers of any nationality, any age and at any stage of their career.  The ERC is particularly keen to encourage excellent proposals from investigators of any nationality based outside Europe that wish to carry out a project with a host institution in the EU or Associated Countries.[2] Projects may also involve team members from outside Europe.
  • Future Emerging Technologies (FET) is a funding mechanism for collaborative ‘high risk’ research. It is geared specifically towards turning new ideas into new technology in a short time scale. FET will operate under three different streams:
    1. FET Open,  a bottom-up up scheme open to all sciences.
    2. FET Proactive where topics are prescribed  by a biannual work programmes.
    3. FET Flagships, multibillion programmes with a defined roadmap. Currently there are two flagships running: the Graphene and the Human Brain projects. These flagship projects issue their own calls.
  • Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) fund mobility, training and career development in academia, industry and other non-academic sectors through individual mobility grants  (individual fellowships) and projects. Fellowships are open to individual researchers of all nationalities with at least four years research experience or a PhD. To be eligible applicants should not have been in the host country for more than 12 months in the previous three years.
  • Research Infrastructures: funding for e-infrastructures and access to infrastructures for researchers.

Pillar 2: Industrial Leadership. This is the Enterprise and Innovation Fund for collaborative research and innovation projects. Here the focus is on industrial involvement and applied research.

Pillar 3: Societal Challenges. Funding here is predominantly for collaborative projects, following a top-down approach with two-year work programmes of defined, challenge-based topics. Usually, a minimum of three legal entities from three EU Member States participate in these projects. There is no maximum number of partners. Project partners can be from any part of the world.

Under pillar 3, seven Societal Challenges have been identified:

  1. Health, demographic change and wellbeing
  2. Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research and the bio-economy
  3. Secure, clean and efficient energy
  4. Smart, green and integrated transport
  5. Climate action, resources and raw materials
  6. Inclusive, innovative an reflective societies
  7. Secure societies

How does Horizon 2020 work, and how is implemented?

Alongside the bottom-up funding schemes within the Excellent Science pillar, the Commission will produce biannual Strategic Programmes specifying the focus areas for that particular period. These strategic roadmaps will form the basis of biannual work programmes under the three different pillars.

The work programmes will define the topics, challenges and the expected outcomes . They will also give details of call dates and deadlines, budgets, funding rates, and any other project-specific requirement. Calls will open every year.

Focus areas for 2014-2015 include: Personalising health and care; sustainable food security; blue growth (unlocking the potential of the oceans); competitive low-carbon energy; energy efficiency; mobility for growth; waste; water innovation; overcoming the crisis; disaster resilience, and digital security.

Horizon 2020 and International cooperation

For project partners based in a Third Country[3]:

One fifth of research projects funded under previous framework programmes already involve at least one partner from outside the EU. Horizon 2020 will, like its predecessors, be open to participation from across the world. This general openness will be complemented by targeted actions in specific areas and with specific partner countries and regions based on the principle of common interest and mutual benefit.

Any legal entity will be able to participate in Horizon 2020, but only countries that have a GDP below EUR 3 trillion will be eligible to receive automatic funding. High income countries that are not Associated Countries usually participate in EU projects on a self-financing basis.  Entities from high-income countries area only funded in exceptional circumstances, for example where there is a reciprocal agreement in place, or where it is clear that the contribution of the third country partner would be essential for the project to go ahead successfully.

For individual researchers:

Researchers can participate in Horizon 2020 regardless of nationality. Researchers from anywhere in the world can apply for a European Research Council (ERC)  grant to come to Europe and do their research. Already around 200 ERC grantees are non-Europeans. Additionally, research teams set up by ERC grantees are highly international: an estimated 18% of team members are non-Europeans.

Roughly a fifth of the 11,440 Marie-Sklodowska Curie (formerly Marie Curie) fellows come from outside the EU. The Marie-Sklodowska Curie programme now encompasses 121 nationalities.

How to participate in Horizon 2020

To apply, individual researchers and organisations must register with the European Commission Authentication Service (ECAS).

For more information about Horizon 2020 visit www.ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020

[1] Budget is due to be signed off in Parliament November 2013.

[2] Under FP7 the EU had association agreements with 14 countries, meaning their researchers can participate and get funding on the same basis as those on the Member States. In return, the Associated Countries contribute to the programme budget. Association agreements are currently under negotiation for Horizon 2020.

[3] Countries other than EU Member States or Associated Countries.


  1. Even if there are international partners in one-in-five projects in FP7- “Partner countries account for around 5% of total participations, and in footnote 2) it is further noticed “that these partners account for just over 2% of the Framework programme budget”- My question is: Do you think that this will be a significantly higher percentage in Horizon2020? And if so, on which basis do you base your view? Please post the answer to my email below, since I am thinking to use it in University World News


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