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Read our interview with EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel
As the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel is in charge with the implementation of Horizon Europe and leads the Commission’s work on a European Education Area by 2025.
In this conversation, she outlines the key novelties of Horizon Europe, Erasmus + in the new programming period and how they can contribute to the growth of local communities. Finally, she shares her vision of a bottom-up New European Bauhaus initiative, that fully addresses local needs and concerns.
Commissioner Gabriel, congratulations on the launch of the new Erasmus + programme. The programme comes with several key novelties. Would you briefly underline the most important of them, focusing on the opportunities for local communities and authorities?
The launch of the new Erasmus+ programme is indeed a very important event. This is one of the first programmes launched by the Commission under the new seven-year EU budget, and I am particularly pleased about this.
This iconic programme, a symbol of European integration, will build on the success of its predecessors over the past three decades.
The new programme has the largest budget in its history. A budget of EUR 26.2 billion complemented by more than EUR 2 billion from the EU’s external cooperation instrument will be used to finance Erasmus+ actions in the fields of education and training, youth and sport within the EU and internationally.
Erasmus+ is the most successful mobility programme and I am confident that the novelties it brings for the new programming period will make it even more inclusive, green, digital and future-oriented. It will support the resilience of education and training systems and help us achieve the objective of making the European Education Area a reality by 2025.
With regard to local communities and local authorities, the new Erasmus+ programme offers a wide range of opportunities for them in their efforts to strengthen their education and training offer. For example, it will be more accessible to people with fewer opportunities and grassroots organisations through a range of dedicated inclusion measures. Local authorities, as authorities closest to people, can play an important role in multiplying information about these inclusion measures to the relevant organisations in order to reach people with fewer opportunities.
Let me give an example with the ‘small-scale partnerships’. They are designed to widen access to the programme to small-scale actors and individuals who are hard to reach. With lower grant amounts awarded to organizations, shorter duration and simpler administrative requirements, this action aims at reaching out to grassroots organizations, less experienced organizations and newcomers to the programme.
The budget foreseen in the annual work programme is 90 million for education and training, 20 million for youth and 7 million for sport. We already launched the first calls. They will fund flagship initiatives and priority areas, such as Erasmus Teacher Academies and small-scale partnerships.
We aim at implementing 25 Erasmus+ Teacher Academies projects, which will contribute to making the European Education Area a reality by 2025. They will provide learning opportunities for teachers on topics such as inclusion, working with multilingualism, environmental sustainability, equity, gender sensitive teaching in schools and digital education. They will make mobility an integral part of teacher education and teachers’ careers.
In April, we launched the first call for proposals with a budget of EUR 15 million and I encourage all interested organizations, educational establishments to apply. The deadline is 7 September 2021, and the aim is to fund ten projects with a maximum project budget of EUR 1.5 million.
In Higher Education, cooperation between higher education institutions and their local and regional ecosystems is strongly encouraged, whether through the European Universities initiative, partnerships for innovation or through cooperation projects.
Local authorities are equally encouraged to engage in transnational cooperation partnerships together with local schools, VET and adult education providers. These would allow them to support the development and implementation of innovative practices in the field of education and training, and to create an even more attractive learning environment in their community.
Erasmus+ will also continue to support local and regional authorities in their efforts to engage and empower young people by creating networking and peer-learning opportunities beyond their own countries. The new Youth Participation Activities will support youth-led local and transnational initiatives, run by informal groups of young people and/or youth organisations to boost meaningful civic, economic, social, cultural and political participation.
Finally, local authorities are encouraged to apply for cooperation projects in the field of sport through Erasmus+ and to organise not for profit European Sport events addressing volunteering in sport, social inclusion through sport; fight against discrimination in sport and encouraging the participation in sport and physical activity.
Тhe programme is tasked with promoting the European Green Deal through Green Erasmus+. What kind of support can local communities apply for and what transformations does the Commission hope to achieve?
The new Erasmus+ will not stay away from the fight against climate change. It has a substantial contribution to make to the European Green Deal. As the programme has become a synonym of free movement for European learners, it needs to lead by example.
The European Green Deal recognises the key role of schools, training institutions and universities to engage with pupils, parents, and the wider community in the changes needed to ensure a successful transition for Europe to become climate neutral by 2050.
In line with it, the new Erasmus+ programme has reinforced its green dimension. Erasmus+ will strive for carbon-neutrality by providing financial incentives for participants to use sustainable means of transport, such as trains, and it will encourage projects to adopt sustainable practices and behaviours, especially at local level.
But the “Green Erasmus+” is more than that. Erasmus+ funding will also be channelled into building up knowledge and understanding of sustainability and climate action, so that Europeans can acquire the world-leading competences needed to create sustainable societies, lifestyles and economies. To this aim, sustainability and fight against climate change is one of the priorities applying to all sectors for cooperation partnerships projects.
Local authorities may play an important role in supporting and engaging in projects fostering sustainable behaviours among their communities as well as the development of green competences, skills and attitudes on climate change and sustainable development. This may include the promotion of the use of more sustainable transport modes by the participants of Erasmus+ programme during their stays, and facilitate their participation in environmental projects at local level.
The programme will also deliver on the so-called ‘Blue Erasmus’ dimension, notably with the development of skills and competences, project results and knowledge creation, including analyses and best practices relevant to the objective of preserving healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters.
Finally, the involvement of the young generation is also one of the key objectives of the Education for Climate Coalition. This initiative will strengthen the European Climate Pact and will feed into the New European Bauhaus, linking education, science and technology.
We need all creative minds: designers, artists, architects, researchers, young people to make the New European Bauhaus a success. This is a project for all regions and territories in Europe, for European citizens to intervene in such a platform, exploring innovative solutions to challenges like sustainable buildings and circularity, healthy living, cultural heritage, as well as the impact of digital transformation in all these areas.
With a budget of 95.5 billion euros, Horizon Europe is set to become the largest public investment programme in science and innovation. Which areas will receive more funds as compared to Horizon 2020?
Horizon Europe is the most ambitious EU research and innovation programme because of three dimensions: its wider scope of flexible instruments covering fundamental research to close to market activities, its duration, which allows for stability and continuity of our investments and, last but not least, its unprecedented budget.
Our preparations, based on a strong interaction with the wider research and innovation community, bared excellent fruits. It helped us to put together the largest ever EU research and innovation Programme, with 95,5 billion euros for 7 years, a 30% budget increase compared to Horizon 2020.
The additional funds allowed us to reinforce strategic components of the programme, in particular the European Research Council, the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions for the mobility of researchers and the European Innovation Council, a new instrument for innovative SMEs and start-ups.
In terms of the distribution of resources, the approach taken in the negotiations with the co-legislators was to strike the right balances between different aspects. Namely, between fundamental and applied research or between the thematic areas covered that range from health to agriculture or from transport to digital technologies.
Therefore, we had margin to increase the resources of the different pillars and introduce new dimensions.
We have certainly looked for an R&I programme that can respond to the key policy priorities for the new decade, related with the Green and Digital transitions. Besides these two well-known objectives, Horizon Europe will also focus on improving our health, mobility, energy efficiency and preserving our cultural heritage.
New concepts and instruments were introduced in an overall logic of simplification. For instance, the Horizon Europe Missions bring new possibilities for synergies between different programmes including cohesion funds. The European Innovation Council is a great novelty acting as a one-stop-shop for funding innovation in particular for SMEs and start-ups.
In terms of budget increase, we have raised the budget for the European Research Council, strengthening the ERC role as a European scientific powerhouse and one of our jewels in terms of knowledge creation.
In line with Europe’s priorities, we have also increased the budget for the thematic areas covering health, security, digital, space, energy, transport and agriculture. One novelty is the new chapter on culture and creative industries, which received a budget of €2.2 bn.
In the 3rd pillar, we have increased the budget for the European Institute for Innovation Technology to continue our support to collaboration between business, education and research organisations and we have allocated 10bn to the new EIC.
Finally, we will also have a fourth pillar. This will be dedicated to strengthening the European Research Area and supporting Member States to improve their research capacities, avoid brain drain and launch national R&I reforms. The resources dedicated to the so-called “widening countries” has increased from 1% to 3,3% of the programme’s allocation.
Furthermore, we will be better prepared for the next decade because we have defined new guiding policies and targets. Besides the well-known objectives related with the green and digital transitions, Horizon Europe will focus on improving our health, mobility, energy efficiency, food security while tackling climate change and preserving our cultural heritage.
You mentioned the European Innovation Council. How does it differ from the European Innovation and Technologies Institute established in 2008?
Europe needs to capitalize on its science, innovative SMEs and start-ups to compete in global markets increasingly defined by new technologies.
We need new instruments adapted to the specificities of the third and fourth wave of innovation. The third wave is represented by the IT and biotech start-ups, and the fourth wave is around deep tech start-ups around synthetic biology, neural networks and space tech. The latest wave of innovation is characterised by start-ups that are not easily replicable and based on science, contrary to the easily replicable digital start-ups.
In this context, the European Innovation Council (EIC) is the most ambitious EU initiative ever for disruptive and breakthrough innovation with a €10 billion budget (2021-2027). As a one-stop-shop, its support ranges from early-stage scientific research on breakthrough technologies, to transitioning research results into commercial opportunities, and the development and scaling up of innovative start-ups and SMEs.
Moreover, the EIC Fund is a major new development investing equity (up to € 15 million) in EIC supported start-ups & SMEs. The Fund’s task is to implement the equity component of the blended finance support provided by the EIC. This is an exciting development as it is the first time that the Commission makes such direct equity investments.
The EIC plays a crucial role in upgrading the overall European innovation ecosystem, alongside the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) and support to European Innovation Ecosystems under Horizon Europe that will support policies, initiatives and actions to enable national, regional and local innovation ecosystems to flourish. An EIC Forum brings together the entire ecosystem to share information, knowledge, best practices, to create a stronger, EU wide innovation ecosystem.
The European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) with a reinforced budget of EUR 3 billion and the largest European network of innovation partners (more than 1500 partners across all 27 member States) supports institutional partnerships in the form of 8 thematic Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs).
Between 2021 to 2027 the EIT will increase the impact of its activities through creating two new KICs focused, one on the Cultural and Creative Sectors and Industries and one on Water, Marine and Maritime Sectors and Ecosystems. It will put more emphasis on the regional dimension of its activities by providing targeted support to countries who need to improve their innovation capacity. Furthermore, it will implement a new pilot initiative to increase the entrepreneurial and innovation capacity of higher education institutions.
With the objective of creating local ecosystems and connecting them to one another, the new European Innovation Ecosystems Programme and the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) will complement each other. They respond to different needs and provide distinct but complementary support to innovators.
The EIC has established collaborations with other research and innovation funding instruments, including the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. In particular, innovative researchers from the ERC and start-ups stemming from EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities will be granted fast track access to the EIC pipeline.
The EIC provides support directly to innovators in in the fields of health, food, energy, manufacturing, climate, IT, raw materials and urban mobility. The EIT has been the only EU programme that has provided support to two of the new EU unicorns what demonstrates the capacity of the EIT to help its beneficiaries to scale up and become global champions.
Besides, the EIT is a very agile instrument that is able to provide support in a very short period of time. For instance, during the COVID-90 pandemic the EIT was mobilised to provide EUR 61 million to start-ups in three weeks.
In January 2021, the EIC and EIT signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement a common strategy and build synergies between their various activities. This will enable innovators, innovative SMEs and start-ups, higher education institutions and research organisations to receive quality support services to deploy and scale up innovations faster and with greater impact.
Horizon Europe will for the first time include five goal-oriented missions to tackle global challenges. One of the mission areas is dedicated to climate-neutral and smart cities. Please, tell us more about them and how the EU institutions will help these cities achieve concrete objectives.
The solutions that will be developed in these missions will have an impact on people’s daily lives, focusing on saving 3 million lives from cancer, ensuring climate-neutral cities, restoring soils’ health, ensuring climate resilience, restoring oceans and waters’ health and supporting cities to become climate-neutral.
The cities mission’s target is to achieve 100 climate-neutral cities by 2030 across Europe. These cities will serve as experimentation and innovation hubs, inspiring many other cities to follow and enable all cities in the EU to be climate neutral by 2050.
Each city participating in the mission should develop, together with their citizens, a climate city contract, which is tailor-made on its needs and specificities. Cities should receive dedicated support, which would help them in breaking the barriers that exist to become climate neutral.
This could include for example providing technical, financial and socio-economic expertise, exploring facilitated access to funding and financing, support for upscaling and deploying research and innovation solutions to meet their climate ambition, as well as opportunities for cities to learn from each other through teaming and twinning activities.
The mission is currently in its preparatory phase. In this phase, we are defining a detailed implementation plan to set out how we intend to achieve its objectives and how we will support cities.
We are working intensively to launch a mission that will combine climate action with systemic reforms in governance, financing and infrastructure addressing urgent challenges in an integrated way. For example, de-carbonising our energy systems, overcoming pollution caused by urban traffic and waste, and heating and cooling our buildings in a sustainable way while leaving nobody behind.
This preparatory phase should be concluded by July and I look forward to a rapid launch of the implementation phase in order to allow interested cities to come forward, join the cities mission and start delivering on European Green Deal objectives.
There are concrete ways also for the local authorities to get engaged. For example, the mission on Climate Neutral Cities is looking for cooperation with municipalities through setting up ‘city contracts’. The participating municipalities will be able to count on support through technical advice, capacity building or citizens’ awareness raising.
Finally, the newest grand-scale initiative of the Commission is the New European Bauhaus. What would you like to achieve during the current co-design phase and how can our readers contribute to it?
The New European Bauhaus has the ambition to make the Green Deal a cultural, human-centred and positive, tangible experience. Everyone should be able to feel, see and experience the green and digital transformation and the way it enhances our quality of live.
The first phase of the initiative is focused on design and engagement, and it aims to clarify the scope and will inform the priorities of the New European Bauhaus actions.
Delivering on the New European Bauhaus means reaching out to local places, at district, neighbourhood or village level, where transformations responding to global challenges make sense for people and contribute to improving our lives. Keeping people at the centre, the New European Bauhaus wants to support the local activation of communities, by facilitating for instance the connection of artists, designers, architects with scientists and engineers.
One important element, to build a community, is the partners the New European Bauhaus. We team up with inspiring networks, associations, and organisations that are committed to act as promoters and key interlocutors throughout the New European Bauhaus initiative.
So far, we have around 80 partners and I am happy to say that TheMayor.EU was one of the first partners to be selected. I congratulate the whole team of TheMayor.EU for this excellent work.
During the Design Phase, which will run until the summer, we expect to receive as many inputs as possible from communities, authorities and organisations ranging from the local to the international level.
Interestingly, many of the contributions received so far look at global challenges through the lenses of solutions developed at local level, in districts, neighbourhoods and villages. This is the innovative way we have proposed to collectively identify common needs and to co-develop local solutions to tackle the most urgent global challenges we are exposed to.
Moreover, as we are progressing towards the middle of the design phase, we are organising the first online high-level Conference on the New European Bauhaus, that will take place on 22 and 23 April.
At this occasion, we will also unveil the New European Bauhaus prizes. The 2021 Prizes will be part of and represent the culmination of the design phase, as the prizes will bring together those excellent examples and new ideas that could inspire the project and contribute to the shaping of the concept.
This year, we will recognize and celebrate existing achievements and support the younger generation to further develop emerging concepts and ideas.
I therefore invite everyone to share their views, but also to get involved, or even to organise conversations on the New European Bauhaus. To assist the community on this action, ‘conversation toolkits’ are available on the New European Bauhaus website, alongside a range of other support material.
Being a true bottom-up project, the New European Bauhaus aims at facilitating the exchange of knowledge, ideas and needs between different actors – at a local scale to empower communities to create true transformational projects that promote beautiful, sustainable and inclusive forms of living.
This last point is critical – we must enable communities to act and of course, local authorities play a major role here. Local authorities will be able to network and access these best practices, helping to make methods, solutions and prototypes available throughout Europe.
Finally, we aim to launch at least five pilots across Europe, that showcase the best of the early ideas and insights to tackle pressing problems using novel approaches, embracing the three New European Bauhaus principles.
In short, the New European Bauhaus is a Europe-wide initiative that operates from the bottom up, addressing local needs and concerns about where and how people live and interact in the context of the European Green Deal.
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