Horizon 2020: what, who and how it works in practice
Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation financing programme ever, the general objective of which is to contribute to the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and complete the European Research Area (ERA).
Research and innovation are at the core of the Europe 2020 Strategy aiming to develop an economy based on knowledge and innovation, promote a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy and foster a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion.
Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013 lays down the rules establishing ‘Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)’ and determines the framework governing EU support for research and innovation activities. Horizon 2020 has been established for the period from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2020, with nearly €80 billion of funding.
Horizon 2020 hopes to leverage additional research, development and innovation funding and by contributing to attaining research and development targets, including the target of 3 % of GDP for research and development across the EU by 2020. This general objective should be pursued through three priorities: i) excellent science, ii) industrial leadership and iii) societal challenges.
Horizon 2020 supports indirect actions through one or several of the forms of funding provided for by Regulation (EU, EURATOM) No 966/2012, in particular grants, prizes, procurement and financial instruments. It also supports direct actions undertaken by the Joint Research Centre (JRC).
How to participate in Horizon 2020?
Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013 sets out a three steps assessment procedure for participation in Horizon 2020 programmes: i) the ‘legal entity’ condition, ii) conditions for participating, and ii) eligibility for funding.
First, the funding programme is open to any ‘legal entity’ or international organisation, within the meaning of Article 7 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013. A ‘legal entity’ is any natural person, or any legal person created and recognised as such under national law, EU law or international law, which has legal personality and which may, acting in its own name, exercise rights and be subject to obligations.
Holding the status of ‘legal entity’ within the meaning of Article 7 is nevertheless not sufficient. As a second step, Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013 lists the minimum conditions for participation in grant-awarding procedures, namely i) at least three legal entities have to participate in an action (and the three entities should be legally distinct); ii) the three legal entities have to be established in different Member States or associated Country; iii) and the three legal entities shall be independent of each other.
There are three exceptions to the ‘three entities’ requirement. The participation of one legal entity established in a Member Stare or associated Country is first sufficient in case of: i) European Research Council (ERC) frontier research actions, ii) the SME instrument, where the action has a clear European added value, iii) programme co-fund actions, and iv) justified cases provided for in the work programme or work plan. In addition, the participation of one legal entity is sufficient in the case of coordination and support actions and training and mobility actions. Finally, the ‘three entities requirement’ may not be required for specific work programmes or work plans providing for specific conditions regarding the number of participants, the type of participant and the place of establishment.
Third, Article 10 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013 determines which legal entities are eligible for funding. These are i) any legal entity established in a Member State or associated Country, or created under EU law; ii) any international European interest organisation; iii) any legal entity established in a third Country identified in the work programme.
Horizon 2020 offers a large variety of funding opportunities, that are set out in calls for proposals. Calls for proposals cover different issues, from looking for solutions for a cleaner air to making scientific careers more attractive to younger researchers, from finding new means to contrast terrorism to helping Europe become a global actor.
How does Horizon 2020 work in practice?
A legal entity having found an interesting topic, has to submit its proposals within the deadline. For this purpose, it shall have to look for potential partners (unless exceptions to the ‘three entities’ rule applies), and draft a proposal including a draft plan for the exploitation and dissemination of the results. Finally, it shall have to register on the online Participant Portal and submit its proposal.
Once the deadline has expired, all proposals are evaluated by a panel of independent specialists in their fields. The panel checks each proposal against a list of criteria (excellence, impact, quality and efficiency of the implementation) to see if it should receive funding.
Once a proposal passes the evaluation stage, applicants are informed about the outcome.
The Commission then draws up a grant agreement with each participant. The grant agreement confirms what research and innovation activities will be undertaken, the project duration, budget, rates and costs, the Commission’s contribution, rights and obligations and more. Normally, the grant agreements should be signed within three months.
The Horizon 2020 programme has recently allocated Euro 130.6 million to almost 400 SMEs that operate in different fields all over Europe. This latest awards raises to 827 the number of SMEs that has currently received subsidies, for a total of Euro 255 million distributed. It is difficult to predict the real economic impact of these funding initiatives but, surely, Horizon 2020 represents a valuable chance to promote European excellence and find concrete solutions to today’s global issues.
 Communication from the Commission, Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, COM(2010) 2020 final, Brussels, 3 March 2010.
 Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013 establishing Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020) and repealing Decision No 1982/2006/EC, OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p.104. (Regulation 1291/2013).
 Article 6 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013.
 Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013 of 11 December 2013 laying down the rules for participation and dissemination in”Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)” and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1906/2006, OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p.81.
 For the purposes of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013, ‘legal entity’ means any natural person, or any legal person created and recognised as such under national law, EU law or international law, which has legal personality and which may, acting in its own name, exercise rights and be subject to obligations.
 Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013.
 Article 13 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013.
 Article 15 of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013.
 Articles 18 to 20 of of Regulation (EU) No 1290/2013.