EU funding,  HorizonEurope

Are you ready for the EU’s missions?

From 2021 the EU will go on a mission – several missions actually. Many research projects under the new research programme ‘Horizon Europe’ will need to align to one of the EU’s missions. Are you prepared for this new approach?

What is this mission approach about? Has the EU become religious and started doing missionary work? Praising European values all over the world? Encouraging the glory of the EU rise among us?

Or is it the EU’s mission, should it choose to accept it, to send out handsome agents to save the world from evil, risking their lives on top of a TGV travelling at high speed through the Channel Tunnel? (For those, who haven’t seen the film, here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ohws8y572KE).

The setting may be a little less dramatic, but the EU’s future mission is indeed about saving the world, or at least, contributing to its saving. Our world faces many serious challenges such as diseases, water pollution and climate change. And some of these challenges are to be addressed within missions by the future research programme: Horizon Europe.

What is a mission?

A mission in the sense of the new research programme is similar to a catalyst. Instead of spreading its grants too thinly across many topics and purposes (known in German as “Gießkannenprinzip” (watering can principle)), a mission will bundle manifold research activities, across both disciplines and sectors.

But missions go beyond the mere bundling of research activities under global topics, which has already been practised under Horizon 2020 under the heading of ‘societal challenges’. Missions will start from a severe societal challenge and will formulate a clear mission goal. Missions define the state of play after successful completion of this mission as a measurable outcome, e.g. plastic-free oceans. Mission outcomes must result in pan-European added value and impact. And only in the second step will the EU define the measures necessary to achieve these outcomes. Most of these measures will probably be research activities. But for the achievement of some missions, it will be required to adopt legislative acts or to undertake accompanying activities such as awareness raising.

The EU defines a mission as “a portfolio of actions across disciplines and sectors, intended to
– achieve, within a set timeframe, a measurable goal that could not be achieved through individual actions,
– have impact on society through science and technology, and
– be relevant for a wide range of European citizens.”

Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL establishing Horizon Europe 2018/0224(COD), p.5

However, missions have another purpose, too. They are also a means to reduce the gap between citizens and the EU, to increase acceptance among EU citizens for the high investments into research. Thus, missions will have a strong societal component, too. They should be co-designed by stakeholders and take into account citizens’ and end users’ perceptions. The research undertaken under the umbrella of a mission should clearly make a change in citizens’ daily life.

Which missions did the EU choose?

The three deciding bodies (Commission, Parliament and Council) chose five missions (as of May 2019).

  1. Adaptation to climate change, including societal transformation
  2. cancer
  3. healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters
  4. climate-neutral and smart cities
  5. soil health and food

However, these may be subject to change; the final decision about Horizon Europe will be taken in December 2019 at the latest.

What does this mean for researchers applying for funding?

Within a mission, the expected impact will no longer be defined at the level of the call topics, but across all mission activities. Individual research proposals must therefore clearly demonstrate how their research can contribute to achieving this expected ‘mission impact’.

This means that proposals under a mission must translate the mission criteria into their research design and

  • be impact-driven,
  • have a clear EU added value,
  • be multidisciplinary,
  • include bottom-up approaches and solutions,
  • take into account human and societal needs and benefits,
  • include social sciences and humanities and
  • involve stakeholders from public and private sectors, including citizens and end users.

Seize your chance!

When reading this, many researchers may groan. This mission approach may be beneficial to tackle a global societal challenge, but it makes the design of research projects more complex and demanding, because beyond the actual research interest, researchers must take into account many side conditions such as addressing societal challenges, integrating Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH), end-user involvement… To be honest: not every project will benefit from this approach.

But aligning one’s research to a mission can turn out to be a great opportunity! If researchers not only impose the side conditions to an existing research design but manage to integrate these conditions into the creation of the research design from scratch, their research can achieve a much more significant outcome. So, seize your chance!

Stuck in your expertise?

For those researchers who are excellent in their topic, but are somehow stuck in their expertise and don’t really know how to align their research to a mission, take a look at my SERVICES. I’ll make sure your research project does not lose track of the overall political and societal setting of the call and responds to all criteria in a comprehensible way. I’ll create an outcome-based project allowing you to put your vision into action.


The missions‘ background

The evaluation of the previous research programme (FP7) came to the conclusion, that the programme had too many objectives (…) addressing almost all science & technology and socio-economic challenges – and that they were too abstract and vague (Horizon2020 impact assessement, SEC(2011) 1427 final).

Within the current research funding programme Horizon2020, the European Commission made already a first step into bundling research activities in 4 focus areas. This was well evaluated, as it created “greater internal coherence”.

Focus areas are in effect ‚virtually linked calls‘, which constitute the linking of topics from respective parts of Horizon 2020 through a new rationale, and thereby unlocking new types of impact and added value. This is achieved through aligning aspects of the implementation such as proposal submission deadlines and evaluation procedures, and also putting in place measures to share information and create synergies between ongoing projects throughout the life-cycle (e.g. publicity, project monitoring).

The interim-evaluation of Horizon2020 asked for an even stronger focus. Pascal Lamy’s expert group requested a “mission-oriented and impact-focused approach to address global challenges”, which was further detailed by Mariana Mazzucato.