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Opinion – Research infrastructures, Horizon Europe Missions and wider policy goals

Jana Kolar

For years, pan European research infrastructures (RIs) and large-scale national facilities have contributed to the excellence of the Union’s science base. In European programmes, they were firmly nested in the Pillar dedicated to scientific excellence and supported though a dedicated work programme. In addition, they have contributed to training, innovation, and partly also to the other pillars of the programme, such as the one addressing societal challenges. ESFRI, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, since 2002, has been supervising the establishment and development of a Pan-European Research Infrastructures landscape. So far, this has led to a pooling of national resources in excess of 10 billion EUR. The field even got a dedicated regulation, the ERIC Regulation, a rarity in the domain of research and innovation, which is otherwise largely based on soft law, such as Council Conclusions. Today, the European approach to the field of research infrastructures is rightfully considered a huge success, managed jointly at EU level, in collaboration with Member States and associated countries through the European Research Area (ERA).

At the onset of the next European research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, due to start on 2021, not much appears to have changed for research infrastructures, as compared to the current funding programme, Horizon 2020. They have their dedicated chapter of the programme in Pillar I dedicated to scientific excellence, aimed at supporting similar activities for a similar amount of funding.

While not much has changed for this Pillar, there are significant changes across the rest of Horizon Europe. Most relevant to this discussion is its emphasis on delivering on the needs of society, largely reflected in Pillar II, called Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness, through its five clusters, dedicated to societal challenges, including Digital and Industry. European partnerships[1]will have much more prominent role than in the current programme. However, the main new element are the five mission areas. The missions stemming from each of the mission areas, when elaborated, will differ from the societal challenges in that they will focus on delivering against a specific target within a specific time frame, like taking a man to the moon and back before the 1970s.

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