As the 2019 elections approach, and the European project is undergoing profound political questioning, the Horizon Europe (FP9) programme ought to easily generate universal agreement. And in fact, in a press release issued before the summer, the Commission unveiled the largest research and innovation programme ever planned to date. An unprecedented opportunity for European Scientist to continue its ongoing discussion series on the financing of scientific research.
100 billion Euros for R&D
The Horizon Europe programme — a continuation of Horizon 2020 — is part of the EU’s long-term budget (2021-2027) and has €100 billion earmarked for research and innovation. According to Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, previous success should be built on; EU funding has generated incredible discoveries and the aim is to “build on this success and continue to improve the lives of citizens and society as a whole“. Alongside the existing Marie Sklodowska-Curie scholarship and exchange programme, Horizon Europe proposes the addition of new components:
- A European Innovation Council (a sort of one-stop shop for innovation devoted to research and innovative companies);
- Research and innovation projects at an EU level (e.g. cancer research, non-polluting transport, removing plastic from the oceans, etc.);
- From “maximising the potential for innovation across the Union” (e.g. supporting Member States where research is lagging behind);
- To promoting open science to improve dissemination of scientific information (open access to publications and data).
The press release stresses how urgent it is to get an agreement in place. “Delays will force the most talented researchers to look for opportunities elsewhere, which will mean the loss of thousands of jobs in research, and will have a negative impact on European competitiveness” According to the authors this could also lead to delays in the various research areas concerned. Finally, the benefits expected to come from the programme are substantial as: ” Every Euro invested by the programme could generate a return of up to 11 Euros of GDP over a 25-year period. The estimate is that EU R&I investment should lead to the creation of up to 100,000 jobs in the R&I sector during the “investment phase” (2021-2027) ”
If we needed an example to convince us of this enthusiasm, Galileo’s success in the middle of the summer came to illustrate the results of pooling resources for European research.
Return of flagship projects: the example of 5G
However, when a plan like this is announced it raises legitimate questions. It has to be said that five-year plans have had their day, and the idea of the state sponsoring research in its “industrial policy” mode has lost its glamour. It is true that over the last forty years, companies that have taken the lead in innovation (and often R&D by default) have been set up in garages. The GAFAM or Big 5, and NATU (Netflix, Airbnb, Tesla and Uber), to mention just a few, have succeeded in exceeding the size and power of political states without any help from the latter. But does that mean the benefits of co-operation and state intervention in the R&D sector should be dismissed? To answer this question, we would like to use a case study: the competition between the USA and China over the implementation of 5G. It may well be that, as the authors of a WSJ dossier report, the home of the Great Wall is one step ahead, thanks to the involvement of the Chinese government. But mastering this technology seems essential both for states and for their industry (technological development, national defence and espionage, patenting, etc.): “ In many respects, China is ahead. Since 2013, a government-led committee has been working with Chinese mobile operators and component manufacturers on testing and development of 5G. State support, combined with a huge domestic market, ensures that Chinese companies such as Huawei can sell large quantities of 5G equipment and gain valuable experience in the process. In the United States, where government generally avoids involvement in the private sector, most experiments have been conducted by companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Samsung and Nokia. (…) China has made 5G a priority after failing to keep pace with Western countries in the development of previous generations of mobile networks. The United States dominated 4G, built in the late 2000s, just as Europe set 3G standards… The physical manifestation of China’s drive to advance is a 5G laboratory run by the government near the Great Wall north of Beijing… ”
The authors of the article observe interestingly “The US government having failed to impose measures on the private sector, the results are more diffuse, determined by the work of each company. In January, a senior official of the National Security Council launched the idea of competing with Beijing, calling on the government to build a nationalised wireless network.”
This case study seems to demonstrate the importance that a state-type structure can play in the context of huge works like developing a communication network. However, let us not infer too quickly from this that any investment in R&D must be steered by a state structure that is totally blind to market forces. To go back to 5G, it would seem that the cost of data is too high for consumers to use and as AT&T’s General Manager of Operations said: “If you deploy technology ahead of need, before there are real applications, you are wasting money “. It would be wrong to draw from this example that you can, without further thought, give state research a blank cheque, believing that all it takes is funding and co-operative projects for things to advance satisfactorily. This may be true of some space and military projects. But, for the rest, let us not forget that the history of science and technology is littered with the failures of state R&D projects. This makes the question even more complex (sup).
Is there such a thing as the ideal research funding?
To answer this strategic question, European Scientist has embarked on a European tour of research funding. So far we have given the floor on this subject to Alexandre Nawrat, Director of the Polish National Research and Development Centre, and to Raymond Piccoli, a French astrophysicist and researcher. Our Polish contributor stressed the need for state and EU intervention to support the second round of companies with promising projects and who need funding for growth, the aim being to avoid the brain drain by setting up public-private partnerships: “The changes proposed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education will unlock the potential of Polish scientists: two laws on innovation and a Constitution for science. These legal measures will enable universities to commercialise their research results more easily, to found their own companies (so-called spin-offs) or to set up cooperation with businesses: ” Our French colleague, on the other hand, has denounced the abuse of public research funding, which he sees as a warped mechanism and has called for participatory solutions: ” Without money, resources, or teamwork, it is impossible to carry out scientific research worthy of the name. To obtain funding, you have to publish and have published, and to publish, you have to carry out research, and therefore have funding… This is a convoluted equation which is sometimes hard to solve…“
The two visions set out above, as well as this editorial, do not by any means cover every aspect of the topic. Forthcoming contributions will further explore the subject. This could provide a basis for reflection and a guide for a prestige project such as Horizon Europe, in the perspective of its “open science” policy. The debate is open: please do not hesitate to participate.
 ” By May 2018, this programme had supported more than 18,000 projects and issued over €31 billion. ”
 Josh Chin, Sarah Krouse and Dan Strumpf. With Drew FitzGerald et Yang Jie, The 5G Race : China and U.S. Battle to Control World’s Fastest Wireless Internet, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-5g-race-china-and-u-s-battle-to-control-worlds-fastest-wireless-internet-1536516373
 This is a topic covered in-depth on several occasions for European Scientist by Claude Huriet who proposes criteria for selecting scientific publications, “Publish or perish: How to burst the bubble of scientific publication? Link : https://www.europeanscientist.com/fr/opinion/publier-ou-disparaitre-comment-faire-eclater-la-bulle-de-la-publication-scientifique-2/