by Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Research, Innovation, Culture, Education and Youth,
European Commission, Brussels
he provoked war in Ukraine is the most recent signal of the need to defend our democratic values and freedoms. An urgent need that Europe addresses with strong resolve and unity. We prepared swift responses to tackle the humanitarian urgencies and strong sanctions against the aggressors, targeting their financial and economic activities. Regarding the research, innovation and education programmes (Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ and Euratom), we also took a clear position, suspending our scientific cooperation with Russia and supporting Ukrainian researchers, and foreign scientists and academics working in Ukraine.
Europe needs to tackle its dependencies
The war in Ukraine obliges us to accelerate the processes to transform our societies and our economies towards more resilience, more sustainability, and more strategic autonomy. We need to tackle our dependencies, especially from unreliable partners, on critical sectors and infrastructures such as our energy or food supply, cybersecurity, the next generation of secure communications, artificial intelligence and new materials.
Let me stress the need to include educational infrastructures in the list of socio-economic critical infrastructures, as it became evident during the pandemic and now with the surge of numbers of children displaced from the war. Such a proactive path requires a holistic approach of anticipation, deterrence, resilience and leadership. I believe it must necessarily include research, innovation and education.
Let me highlight three dimensions that require our attention to reinforce our European strategic autonomy: 1) research and innovation through key industrial R&I partnerships; 2) highly skilled competences in deep tech, and 3) deepening our R&I global approach at programme-level to foster cooperation with trusted allies.
Research and innovation
Starting with research and innovation, Europe needs to strengthen the synergies between programmes in order to develop the security and defence union, increasing the capacity of EU Member States, authorities and institutions to align investments.
Horizon Europe provides important instruments through its partnerships in critical areas for Europe’s strategic autonomy such as clean hydrogen or advanced manufacturing capacity, including on advanced chips and new materials. These partnerships, involving Member States and industry, are very good instruments to foster joint R&I agendas with a critical mass of investments and stakeholder support to maximise the impact of their investments.
Partnerships are mainly funded through the second pillar of Horizon Europe with an envelope in the order of €25bn. Being a mechanism with a double purpose – align and add – Europe must foster synergies with actions that reinforce our autonomy and our competitiveness. We can account for an additional €50bn co-invested by Member States and industry. Additional resources can be raised to strengthen our ability to align regional, national and European investments to be at the forefront of innovation across the EU territory.
For example, with the recently proposed Chips Act, we plan to allocate more than €1bn of Horizon Europe funding to strengthen Europe’s semiconductor and new materials ecosystem, from research to production and a resilient supply chain.
The partnerships on clean hydrogen – also worth €1bn of Horizon Europe – is positioned to accelerate the adoption of alternative energy sources and energy storage technology and infrastructures, developing at the same time a European network of innovation ecosystems promoting the whole value chain, from production, distribution infrastructure to the next generation mobility and transport systems. What Europe needs is to transform the EU “knowledge fabric”, recognised as a long-standing scientific powerhouse, into a lead innovator shortening the path from research outputs to marketable products, including technologies that are essential to address complex combinations of threats. I am committed to this objective and I work to support the emergence and scaling of such companies, through the various European Innovation Council funding instruments.
We acknowledge that the security of our citizens and the defence of our societal values and economic assets depend on our ability to embed new knowledge through education, research and innovation, including the aspects of security and defence.
Skills and competences
Regarding skills and competences, Europe needs to call for new talents in critical areas – from artificial intelligence systems to the design of new aircraft engines or new quantum materials with completely new properties. To achieve this, we need to be leaders in deep tech education.
Another example where education plays a key role is the nature of cyber threats that potentially affect different critical infrastructures. It is important to incorporate the most advanced knowledge on artificial intelligence and deep learning technologies. Through the Horizon Europe programme, we aim to support the development of technological products and services that comply with the highest data protection. We have launched funding totalling €135m through calls for projects related to preventing digital disruption, notably those caused by malicious cyber activities.
This investment builds upon the existing success of our previous programme, Horizon 2020, where we invested over €680m in more than 130 cybersecurity research projects.
The Union’s global approach to R&I
Finally, a word on how important it is for Europe to have defined criteria and processes to select collaborations with our international allies, in the context of our global approach to R&I. We have established clear guidance highlighting the importance to maintain the openness of our R&I programmes while endowing us with the tools to safeguard European strategic interests. This is a new provision of Horizon Europe regulation that we have used in the work programme 2020-21, in full coordination with Member States. We can proudly say that this powerful process allows the EU to keep its programme the most open to international collaborations while ensuring reciprocity and a careful analysis of the sensitive parts where the EU carefully chooses with whom to collaborate.
The way ahead
I conclude by underlining that the recent developments oblige all of us, European policymakers and citizens, to take nothing for granted. We must stay on high alert to defend our democracies and freedom of expression while being able to ensure “business continuity” in key areas from health, energy, transport, to education, professional activities and governmental institutions.
In a changing world, Europe has to affirm a leading role. Europe has the capacity to accelerate the pace addressing the threats of climate change, using science and innovation to make decisive progress on energy supply and reduce the dependencies from unreliable international partners. Science, education and innovation are key in this journey. They carry intrinsic, unnegotiable European values that make us unique and strong in a multi-lateral geopolitical world.