Digital Europe Work Programme published

What is worth waiting for…now it is published: the Digital Europe Work Programme 2021-2022.

The Digital Europe Programme plans to reinforce EU critical digital capacities by focusing on the key areas of artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, advanced computing, data infrastructure, governance and processing, the deployment of these technologies and their best use for critical sectors like energy, climate change and environment, manufacturing, agriculture and health.

It is split into 5 large Specific Objectives: SO 1: High Performance Computing SO 2: Cloud, Data and AI

SO 3: Cybersecurity SO 4: Advanced digital skills SO 5: Accelerating best use of technology

Parts of the programme are “successors” to the CEF – Connecting Europe Facility, but many others are new and are geared to create synergies with Horizon 2020 initiatives and other projects and programmes.

Special emphasis is put on European data governance and security which is the reason why third party participation or participation of entities that are controlled by third countries are restricted for some of the strains.

The budget for this Work Programme is EUR 1383 million.

The planned types of action foresee mostly 50% funding, with the exception of (small) CSAs, actions for SME support (75% for SMEs) and “Grants for financial support” (cascading grants) where the beneficiaries receive 100% but the cascading grantees 50%.

More information or contact me

Horizon Europe Work Programmes

Since 22 June 2021, the long expected Horizon Europe Work Programmes are published. While these are good news, the bad news follow: Deadline for the 2021 calls is in many cases in September – that means a working summer season for those that want to grab this opportunity. And opportunities are plenty: Alone the WP – 7 for Digital, Industry and Space covers more than 200 action lines on 512 pages. Others are less voluminous, but many have a clear focus on the Green Deal and the Social Development Goals. Here some links:

WP 4 – Health

WP 5 – Culture, Creativity and inclusive Societies

WP 6 – Civil Security for Society

WP 7 – Digital, Industry and Space

The European Commission organises virtual InfoDays starting on 28 June. No registration is needed, all are accessible from the InfoDays Website.

Digital Europe & the Digital Decade

The last two days (1/2 June 2021) saw the launch of the EU’s strategy “Leading the Digital Decade” with the Digital Europe funding programme (in short DIGITAL) at its core.

The Digital Europe Programme will provide funding for projects in five areas

  1. Supercomputing/HPC (total dedicated budget over the 7 years: 2.26 BEUR)
  2. Artificial intelligence, sectoral data spaces, digital innovation hubs etc. (2 BEUR)
  3. Cybersecurity (1.6 BEUR)
  4. Advanced digital skills (577 MEUR)
  5. Use/deployment of digital technologies across the economy and society (1 BEUR)

The programme is not a mere technology or business programme but encompasses all actors in the digital economy and society. Main emphasis is put on “greener and more digital transformations” for the benefit of citizens and businesses alike, not forgetting the public sector, smart cities and regions, and academia & research on which results from research projects this market-near programme may/will build.

Alas, at the time of the launch, neither Work Programmes nor Calls were ready. But some programme features were provided:

Sectorial priority topics for 2021/2022 “sectorial data spaces”: Health, mobility, agri-food, manufacturing

The AI on demand platform: this one-stop-shop for AI solutions and AI market place will be part of Call 2 end of 2021

Project types: There will be a variety of project types throughout DIGITAL that will be specified in the Calls, amongst them: CSAs (100% funding); SME support (75% for SME, 50% for others); Third party support (cascading funds); simple grant projects (50% funding); and procurement. All between one and several partners, depending on the topic and Call.

Who can participate?
Any legal entity in the EU Member States and countries associated with the programme (not yet final which they are). For topics critical to security and that “strengthen de European strategic autonomy”, legal entities must be controlled by entities based in the EU.

Funding rate: between 50% and 100%, depending on topic/project type.

How will proposals be submitted?
All via the “Funding & Tender Opportunities Portal

How will proposals be evaluated?
As for R&D&I proposals, by 3 independent experts. Criteria are:

RELEVANCE: How does the proposal contribute to objectives (as set forth in the Call), EU strategies, supply chain reinforcement, and how to overcome potential financial obstacles.

IMPLEMENTATION: How mature is the proposed solution? Are the partners capable of carrying it out? Work planning.

IMPACT: What will be the achievements? How is communication and dissemination planned? What are the contributions to society? How is environmental sustainability addressed?

It was emphasised that the programme is for all, bringing together digital providers and digital users.

More information:

Horizon Europe General Rules

Horizon Europe published some preliminary work programmes, most of them related to COVID. They, like all other future work programmes, can be found on the Funding & Tenders Portal. Furthermore, the first version of general rules “WP13” were published that follow the rules of Horizon 2020 – with some “small print” changes:

Gender Equality takes a specific, important role in Horizon Europe. Public institutions, Higher Education as well as research institutions must show a “gender equality plan” as eligibility criterion. Furthermore, when evaluated proposals have a tied score, they may be prioritized according to H2020 rules: 1. coverage of all (sub)topics, 2. higher score in sub-criteria excellence and impact (impact first for Innovation Actions). But at the third place for prioritization, there is gender equality among the staff of the beneficiaries, as described in the application. This raises some questions to the author: Does it mean real and true gender equality (50:50) that would propel a tied scored proposal higher, or should it be read as “gender bias”: the more women, the better? And what about the not yet documented cases of transgender staff? As often, such well meant rules raise a lot more questions than they solve…

Another new issue refers to the redress procedure, if an applicant is unhappy with the evaluation of the proposal: “Only the procedural aspects of an evaluation may be the subject of a request for an evaluation review. The evaluation of the merits of a proposal will not be the subject of an evaluation review”. So, no more fear that a wrong formulation of the Evaluation Summary Report (ESR) can lead to unwelcome complaints.

The first version of the Model Grant Agreement shows also an interesting new aspect: The financing institution (in most cases, probably the European Commission) can carry out an “impact evaluation” during but also after the project, depending on the Grant Agreement, to check how far impact promises were implemented in reality.

Last but not least: Application forms (Part B) are limited to 45 pages, 30 pages for CSAs. Only the new “Programme Co-fund action” is allowed 70 pages. So train yourself in clear & concise drafting before the first Calls are published!

EIC Work Programme available

As one of the first Horizon Europe programmes, the EIC – European Innovation Council’s Work Programme is now available. The European Innovation Council (EIC) is a key novelty of Horizon Europe and represents the most ambitious innovation initiative that Europe has taken, with a budget of €10 billion for the period 2021-2027. The EIC has a mission to identify, develop and scale-up breakthrough technologies and disruptive innovations. It will support startups, SMEs and research teams developing high-risk, high-impact breakthrough innovation, with a particular focus on scaling up game-changing solutions that contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Recovery Plan for Europe.

The tripartite programme – EIC pathfinder, EIC transition and EIC accelerator – has open calls and challenge-driven calls. “Pathfinder” is geared mainly at consortia in R&D&I, covering TRL 1-4 with 3-4 MEUR single project budget financed at 100%. The transition type of project is geared at single applicants or small (2) consortia, with a budget of 2.5 MEUR and dealing with TRL 4-5/6. Finally, “Accelerator” projects are market near (TRL 5/6 – 8), for single start-ups, SMEs or individuals that plan to create a start-up, with blended financing. Focus is on Green Deal, medical innovations, all with a gender balance in mind.

Horizon Europe et al.

On 29 September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, twitted happily that “habemos consensus”: The Council agreed on the Horizon Europe Regulation text and budget.

It increased the overall budget in comparison to its July suggestion. In current prices, it is €90.9 billion, of which €85.5 billion will come from the 2021 – 2027 long term budget. The rest is from the new pandemic recovery fund, a temporary scheme running from 2021 – 2024 to fund top-down projects that tackle the pandemic and the economic crisis.

One issue is worth noting: While all parts of Horizon Europe were cut, one sub-programme enjoyed an increase of 200MEUR: The Marie Curie action. One argument in favour of the increase seems rather precarious in times of COVID: “With the additional budget, MSCA could fund more than 1,000 stays abroad for EU researchers”. But this is not all. The suggestion to finance these 200 MEUR in taking bits and pieces from all other sub-programmes, an option Commissioner for research, Mariya Gabriel would have favoured, ministers decided to take it from the – new – EIC, the European Innovation Council. So much for fostering innovation…

But it’s not all done yet. The European Parliament, insatiable when it concerns budget distribution, will still have a word to say. Main Committee is ITRE, the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. It is also in charge of all other programmes, with some other associated Committees. Our MEPs will have to work hard to finish all before the end of the year so that they can start in time on 1 January 2021.

Here are two other funding programmes relevant for the digital economy that will have to pass through the European Parliament before the end of the year:

Digital Europe, that will deal with the EU’s  Digital Agenda, comprising topics like: Supercomputing, Artificial Intelligence, cyber security, digital skills and the digital transformation in the public sector.

CEF2 – the successor of the Connecting Europe Facility, the large infrastructure programme with a special “digital envelope”. The new proposal foresees funding percentages between 30% (“works”) to 50% (“studies”) which makes it not realistic for the private sector, in particular SMEs.

The Crown – Corona – Jewels

Corona is everywhere. What was once commonly known as drunk from the bottle with a wedge of lemon (i.e. the Mexican beer) mutated to a household name filled with horror. News – fake, real, it does not matter – do not help as the only fact is “scio nescire”, in other words, we know that we know nothing (or at least nothing 100% concrete) about the virus. To change this, the EU allocated research funds with the focus on COVID-19: To help reach the objectives of the Coronavirus Global Response, €1 billion will be mobilised under the EU’s flagship programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020. The website “Coronavirus research & innovation” provides in depth information on the activities.

Already in January, the European Commission launched an emergency call for proposal to combat the virus. 18 projects have been selected, in four main areas: Preparedness & Response, Diagnostics, Treatment, Vaccines. Let’s hope that they contain the “crown jewels” that will eventually produce effective weapons against the virus.


2020 – the Year of Platformization?

Since Amazon showed us, the Europeans, what a platform means, platforms are springing up like mushrooms after rain. Latest hype are platforms that offer SaaA (Software-as-a-Service) accessible through APIs (application Programming Interfaces). Developers become sellers and users alike, users can plug in and all pay a small fee for transactions (that is the principle in a nutshell). It looks like an overall democratization of software, for the benefits of SMEs (who have easier access to technology, no need for extra hardware and affordable or OS software). While platforms developed by companies (that know their customers + developers) are pretty much targeted (e.g. SDL Github ), the European Commission within its Horizon 2020 programme had an ambition to create some “one-stop-shop” platforms covering different technologies.  But do they really work? It is too early to judge their practical value, but money available for sub-projects make them potentially interesting for SMEs and start-ups:

XR4ALL logo
By 2020, in Europe, the total production value of the XR (virtual/augmented/extended reality) industry should reach €15-34 billion, and the number of direct and indirect jobs 225,000-480,000. However, the European XR scene is relatively less known, quite fragmented, and faced with strong outside competition, especially from Asia and the USA. Therefore, this initiative may be crucial. Calls for sub-projects have two more cut-off dates: 30 April 2020 and 31 July 2020.

ELG logo

ELG will be offering powerful multilingual, cross-lingual and monolingual technologies, thus contributing to the emergence of a truly connected, language-crossing Multilingual Digital Single Market. The first call for sub-projects in the area of language technologies will be published in March 2020.

AI4EU logo

The “first European Artificial Intelligence On-Demand Platform and Ecosystem” is not yet very far. But like all others, it promotes collaboration and community building through open calls for sub-projects: Prototype projects: a Call will be published in Q1 2020, for researchers and entrepreneurs, up to 30.000 EUR. Tech transfer programme for scale-ups: Call will be published  Q3 2020; up to EUR 180.000