Researchers hope new ERA and widening will help close EU’s innovation gap

With the European Commission about to reinforce widening and to revive the European Research Area, researchers in central and eastern Europe weigh in on the promise the innovation gap will narrow under Horizon Europe, writes the Science Business.

Researchers in central and eastern Europe say a scaled up Widening scheme in Horizon Europe and a renewed European Research Area (ERA) could reduce the R&D gap, but member states need to do their part too, improving their research and innovation systems by adopting strategies that have worked in richer countries.

In 2019, EU research ministers agreed to ring fence 3.3% of the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe budget for Widening, a move seen as a big victory for MEPs and countries behind a long-running push for a more level playing field in the EU’s research programme.

Despite these efforts, the gap between east and west in terms of research capacity and excellence “is not decreasing, but is slowly increasing,” said Toivo Maimets, director of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Tartu. 

For Maimets, the new Widening scheme and a better functioning ERA are a good step forward, but member states should also step in and contribute more. “We have blamed Brussels but we should ask what we could do ourselves,” he said.

Under the previous EU research programme, the University of Tartu got 63 million euros, one third of which came from the Widening programme. But Horizon Europe is probably the last framework programme in which Estonia will be eligible for Widening, given economic forecasts put the country’s GDP growth at levels beyond the threshold for taking part. “Our aim in the Widening programme is to reach a point where it’s not needed anymore,” said Maimets.

Read full text from the Science Business website.