The path to a healthy, wealthy Europe is stronger research

Over 600 researchers from all round Europe have contributed to a critical review of Horizon 2020. They say collaboration is needed across disciplines for the €80B research programme to deliver, writes EMRC Chair Liselotte Højgaard

Liselotte Højgaard, Chair of the European Medical Research Councils

In the autumn of 2011, the Copenhagen Research Forum (CRF) invited European researchers to contribute their comments and ideas on the six societal challenges - in health; food and agriculture; energy; transport; climate change and resources; and societies - that form an important part of Horizon 2020, the next EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

The final recommendations of these experts were published recently in the report, “Visions for Horizon 2020 – from Copenhagen Research Forum” and presented to last month’s Ministerial Conference of the Council of Ministers. CRF was set up under the auspices of the Danish Presidency of the European Union to focus on how to tackle the six challenges outlined in Horizon 2020, and in essence its report represents first-time-in-history feedback from top researchers in Europe on the proposed €80 billion R&D programme, which is due to run from 2014 – 2020.

The main message in the report is that the EC proposal is strong and visionary - with well-chosen societal challenges - and that interdisciplinarity should be a prominent feature of future research. The path to ensuring a healthy, wealthy Europe in the future is stronger research.

Researchers help to shape Horizon 2020

Copenhagen Research Forum – Visions for Horizon 2020, an initiative undertaken during the Danish EU Presidency by the University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark and the Capital Region of Denmark, invited more than 600 researchers from around Europe to contribute their comments and expand on ideas concerning the six challenges set out in Horizon 2020. On the basis of these ideas, a conference of 80 researchers from across Europe was held in Copenhagen on 16 January 2012.

At the conference, recognised experts from EU Member States were divided into six panels, one for each challenge. This was the first time in the history of EU framework programmes that researchers have worked together to formulate a research-based and critical view of the European research agenda, without the involvement of any other stakeholders.

Intense interaction

One of the CRF’s major contributions was to articulate how interdependent the themes - and the solutions - to the societal challenges are, and how intensely they interact. Europe needs to find solutions for growth, prosperity and safety for the next decade in the areas of health, food & agriculture, energy, transport, climate change & resources and societies.

The CRF represents the European research community’s commitment to contributing to a better, stronger Europe, through better, stronger research. Solving the societal challenges of Europe requires the collaboration of the best researchers in Europe to provide sustainable solutions.

One of the CRF’s strongest messages is that the societal challenges can only be solved in a truly multi- and cross-disciplinary research context, in which future research solutions transcend and expand traditional views, and are led by genuinely cross-cutting research. As a result, the Horizon 2020 programme must stimulate and encourage collaboration between the research communities associated with the six defined challenges.

Cross-cutting approach

One possible organisational mechanism for achieving this goal is to establish, in addition to programmes dedicated to each of the challenges, programmes that cut across all disciplines. This would ensure the specific allocation of resources to the issues that intersect across the individual challenges.

Given that the problems Horizon 2020 is addressing are global in nature, the solutions to these societal challenges must be seen from more than just a European perspective. Knowledge sharing and research collaboration between the best teams worldwide will mean faster, better, cheaper solutions. By providing the platform and framework, Europe can initiate the global research collaborations necessary to secure Europe as a prosperous, sustainable region.

Incorporate risk-taking

New challenges will arise prior to 2020, which is why a dynamic approach with new research solutions that also incorporate elements of risk-taking are needed, and why emerging challenges must be recognised early. An end-user, problem-solving approach should be taken to strengthen the impact of the Framework Programme and ensure the utilisation and exploitation of outcomes and results.

The simple, transparent approach to both calls and programme administration proposed in Horizon 2020 is highly appreciated and should be further developed to enhance its user-friendliness. With these solutions, the investments made in Horizon 2020 will provide optimal innovation as well as create new jobs, ideas, knowledge and education – for a wealthy, healthy Europe that is an inclusive, innovative and secure society. 

The CRF’s mission would not have turned out as successfully without positive and constructive interaction with our research colleagues from all over Europe, or the valuable, open dialogue we have had with the European Commission and the Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education.

Liselotte Højgaard is President of the Copenhagen Research Forum. She is Chair of the European Medical Research Councils and Head of Department of Clinical Physiology, Nuclear Medicine & PET, Rigshospitalet and Professor in Medicine and Technology at the University of Copenhagen

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Related subjects: Denmark, Horizon 2020, European Medical Research Councils, risk-taking