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An update from the EU: Elections, Horizon Europe, strategic agenda and more

Update 27/1/20. This information in this post is now out of date. Please refer to this post for the latest information.


In today’s blog, Alan Kennedy, Senior Research Development Specialist (EU & International) gives an update from the EU, including the recent EU elections, Horizon Europe, the new strategic agenda, Brexit, and a recent announcement on COST Actions.

While nationally a lot of time and energy is focused on Brexit, the European Commission (EC) has been very busy making preparations for the final stages of Horizon 2020 and preparing for its successor, Horizon Europe.

The Commission has published the final work programmes for Horizon 2020. Focusing on the Societal Challenges, European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, I’ll be posting more in-depth articles on these in the coming days.

Today I’ll focus on what’s been happening at a strategic level with Horizon Europe, the EC’s new strategic agenda, Finland’s EU presidency, an update on COST Actions and, of course, a little bit about Brexit.


The European Parliament elections were held between the 23rd and 26th of June. A total of 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were chosen, representing more than 512 million people from 28 member states. The European People’s Party won the most seats (182). While the two largest parties in Parliament, the European People’s Party and Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, saw a drop in the number of seats, the predicted swing to the right didn’t materialise quite as anticipated and we saw increased support for the Guy Verhofstadt led Renew EU grouping and the Greens–European Free Alliance.

The European Council has nominated German politician Ursula von der Leyen for the position of President of the European Commission. She is currently undergoing Parliamentary approval and if successful will replace the current President, the colourful Jean Claude Junker.

Owing to the preparation of the previous parliament, much of the groundwork on Horizon Europe had been agreed, limiting the changes that can be made at this late stage.

Horizon Europe

Back in June 2018 the European Commission adopted its proposal for Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020. It proposes a €94.1 billion budget over seven years.

In evaluating Horizon 2020, through the interim evaluation and high level “Lab-Fab-App” Lamy report published in May 2017 (now I feel old), the Commission found that the next framework programme for research and innovation would need to make it easier for citizens to understand the value of investments in research and innovation, and maximise the impact of investments by setting clearer targets and expected impact when addressing global challenges.

One way this could be done is by following a mission-oriented approach. There was a lot of speculation about what form the missions would take and what topics they would address.

Earlier in the month the commission announced five mission board chairs and with them the headline topics for each:

  • Adaptation to Climate Change including Societal Transformation;
  • Cancer;
  • Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters;
  • Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities;
  • Soil Health and Food.

Exciting times ahead if your research can contribute to any of these areas.

As the mission boards begin their work and through a period of public consultation we will begin to learn more about the structure of the missions. Citizen engagement will be an important part of this, and probably most of the Horizon Europe programme. Both the UK government and UK universities, including Edinburgh, are continuing to play a role in the creation of Horizon Europe.

The European Council’s new strategic agenda

On 20 June 2019, the European Council agreed on an agenda for the EU for the next five years. ‘A new strategic agenda 2019-2024’ sets out the priority areas that will steer the work of the European Council and provide guidance for the work programmes of other EU institutions. It focuses on four main priorities:

  • protecting citizens and freedoms;
  • developing a strong and vibrant economic base;
  • building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe;
  • promoting European interests and values on the global stage.

You’ll see these reflected in the remaining calls within Horizon 2020 and into the first calls within Horizon Europe.

Finland – EU Presidency

The presidency of the council of the EU rotates among the member states every six months. Finland has taken over from Romania from July 1st until December 31st.

Under the theme “Sustainable Europe, Sustainable Future” the priorities for Finland’s Presidency are:

  1. Strengthening common values and the rule of law;
  2. Making the EU more competitive and socially inclusive;
  3. Strengthening the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action; and
  4. Protecting the security of citizens comprehensively.

View their rather stylish website here. In December, the Presidency will be handed over to Croatia, who will hold the position for the first time.

COST Actions

There has been a recent and positive update on the situation regarding the UK’s participation in COST actions, from the UK Research Office (UKRO):

“With respect to the current open COST call which is due to close on 5 September 2019 at 11:00 (UK time), COST have confirmed that UK participants will continue to have the opportunity to propose, lead, and participate in all Actions. Indeed, the UK has secured a decision from the COST Committee of Senior Officials, that the UK could remain a COST full member country even in the event of a no-deal. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) advice to prospective candidates is to apply as normal. In the event of success they should not seek election of the Grant Holder position in any COST Action until further notice. Official guidance on how to handle the upcoming call is being sought from COST.”

There has been a lot of interest in COST Actions at the University of Edinburgh and I’ll post more information on this as I get it.


There is not much new material to share on Brexit, other than a reminder of some important information.

The UK can still participate as normal until the date on which the UK officially leaves the EU, the current date on which the UK is due to leave the EU is October 31st.

The UK can leave “with a deal”, which means accepting the withdrawal agreement, after which the UK can continue to participate as normal in EU funded research programmes.

In the event of the UK leaving without a deal the UK Government has put in place two guarantees to allow continued participation.

  • The UK government underwrite guarantee will fund the continued participation in successful projects beyond the date the UK leaves the EU.
  • The Post EU Exit Guarantee Extension will cover the cost of participation for UK based organisations in EU programmes that are open to third countries participation. This will run to the end of the Horizon 2020 programme.

Looking to the future, the UK Government’s position is to be fully associated with Horizon Europe so that we can participate in the same way to do with Horizon 2020 now.

More information

Contact our European and International funding experts in the Research Support Office’s Research Funding team:

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Alan Kennedy


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