Working towards Horizon 2020

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The European Commission embarked on the preparation stages for the next financing program for research activities for the 2014-2020 period. It will be called “Horizon 2020”, thanks to the “You name it” competition launched by the Commission to enable European citizens to select the future name of the research and innovation program online. However, there is still time before it begins. In fact, the seventh and penultimate call for the 7th PQ projects has just ended and assessment is in progress. The results, subsequent to an initial overview of the projects presented, composed of approximately ten pages, will take place before the end of the year. Subsequently, in just a few weeks, the complete proposals, in order to compete in the second stage, must be prepared. Shortly, a draft of the seventh and final call of the 7th PQ will be disseminated and will be officially published in July 2012. There have been many changes in the last few years, both in terms of the type of preparation governing the financing requests, an example being the dominance of two-stage proposals, and the involvement of new players, primarily small and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

It is important to remember that the 7th PQ represents the largest research financing program in the world, which in the period 2007-2013, boasted a balance sheet of over 53 billion euros. Italy's contribution to the European Commission balance sheet places it in the third place amongst the 27 member states. In fact, with 14,518 million euros in 2011, our country comes in after Germany and France and in front of England and Spain. This ranking has remained consistent with time.

The question on everybody's mind is, does this investment provide any benefits back home? "Yes and no". If we calculate that Italy contributes, on average, for the 13.5% to the European balance sheet, recent data, using an example, places the return of projects financed in the health sector at approximately 8-8.5% of the total budget. Are we lacking in good scientists? Definitely not. Do we lack the ability to organize ourselves and to work the system. See the table below in this regard.

We have but two directions which we can take. We can take a “top-down” approach where our ministers, primarily the MIUR, could devise a strategy to help Italian research recuperate that which Italy contributes to Europe. We do however need prompt proposals from ministers. The other choice is evidently “bottom-up”. Italian scientists must assume the responsibility to indicate, in the correct places, both public and private, that it is time to seriously think about creating a modus operandi culture in our country too, which would make us more competitive in order to obtain the projects financed by the Commission. To do this, more time is needed to circulate bids primarily in terms of drafts between researchers, and a greater presence within our expert assessment groups and greater commitment in terms of coordinating with the groups proposing projects will be necessary. It is time that the Italian system for European Commission financing comes to life, just like has been the case in other countries for many years now.

Table | Summary of the financing general balance sheet according to category of resources and member state, in millions of euros.

CountryVAT own resourceTotal 'national contributions'
Czech Republic198.41,318.1
Luxembourg 43.8277.6
The Netherlands297.24,263.7
Slovak Republic79.8630.7
United Kingdom2,567.412,918.3
Europe 2713,786.8108,328.7

Table source

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