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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
SPEECH: Joint Programming Conference
Plenary session / Dublin
28 February 2013
Minister Sherlock, Professor Carvalho,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted that this major conference on Joint Programming is taking place in Dublin during the Irish Presidency.
We have gathered here at a crucial time for Joint Programming. Ten Joint Programming Initiatives have been launched in recent years, and while they have reached different level of progress, the process is gaining momentum.
The Joint Programming Initiatives have been working hard to develop their Vision and their Strategic Research Agendas. But we're approaching a crunch time now, when we have to move from visions and agendas, to concrete implementation.
This is the important part of Joint Programming and we need to get it right if we want to reap the benefits of better and more efficient allocation of our scarce resources, and a bigger impact of these resources on the grand challenges that we face.
But this part will be even more challenging and a real test of our commitment to Joint Programming.
So this conference gives us an excellent opportunity to see where we are, what challenges lie ahead and decide where we are going.
There are many issues to discuss, and I don't want to touch on all of them in this speech – but there are two key issues that I would like to address, and which I hope will be useful for your discussions over the next 24 hours.
First, how to navigate the move from agenda-setting to implementation, and second, the relationship between Joint Programming and Horizon 2020.
We all know why we need Joint Programming.
At a time when we are urgently seeking research-driven solutions to major societal challenges and public resources including R&D funding are under pressure, Joint Programming offers a way to get better value, better results and bigger impacts from national research programmes.
Joint Programming means that Member States work together to tackle common issues, ensuring that their national research programmes and investments align in a strategic Research Agenda.
Joint Programming is a new way of working together, and I believe that those who have already started the process can attest that it is hard work, and needs trust between everyone involved.
We are still finding our way. The process is still to be perfected and will no doubt evolve as the research we perform in Europe adapts in response to new challenges and opportunities.
I am committed to Joint Programming, and so are my colleagues in the Commission and in DG Research and Innovation.
I firmly believe that with strong political support and commitment from Member States and from those involved in Joint Programming, we will be able to produce results that matter soon.
I now come to my first point – how best to move from agenda setting to implementation?
Most of the Joint Programming Initiatives, or JPIs, have agreed their Strategic Research Agendas, and I urge those that have not to do so as soon as possible.
There's some urgency now because we want to ensure that the Strategic Research Agendas and Horizon 2020, starting in 2014, complement each other. I'll come back to the interaction with Horizon 2020 in a moment.
The Strategic Research Agendas of JPIs are essential to ensure that national funding is committed and strategically aligned at European level.
Of course it is naturally up to Member States and the JPI stakeholders themselves to agree how to implement the research agendas.
You are best placed to determine your strengths and capacities, to identify where you can restructure your efforts to pool them with other countries, and to spot unnecessary overlaps. In this way, you will get the maximum impact from your resources.
This approach helps ensure that the overall result – carrying out research in vital areas according to a Joint Programming blueprint – is bigger than the sum of the parts.
The Commission has also played a key role in the Joint Programming process by supporting the High-level Group on Joint Programming in developing Guidelines for Framework Conditions to be used by JPIs.
The guidelines contain important principles and range from foresight to evaluation. I regret to say that the guidelines have not been used by many of the JPIs so far. Therefore, I am delighted to see that this Conference will look at the issue.
Agreeing the Strategic Research Agenda is a major achievement for a JPI. But it's only the first step.
There's no point in all this effort if the Agendas lie unused in filing cabinets and on hard drives.
Therefore, implementation is critical, and will be achieved first and foremost through the alignment and coordination of national research programmes and activities.
If the JPIs are to be successful, I believe that the majority of the relevant national programmes and initiatives should be aligned with the Strategic Research Agenda so that we achieve greater impact from our limited resources.
Avoiding overlap and duplication will certainly save money for Member States, but national funding will also be made more effective, freeing up resources to implement other parts of the Agenda.
It's not a question of demanding new resources, just a more coherent and strategic way of using the existing resources, be it people, research infrastructures or finance.
This has been highlighted both in the report I asked key experts to make on the Joint Programming process and in the Biennial report from the High Level Group on Joint Programming.
Implementation is therefore the responsibility of the Member States involved in the JPIs.
There is no magic pot of research money in Brussels to implement the Strategic Research Agendas. Nor would this make sense as it would go against the spirit of Joint Programming which is Member State led.
But we can work together, in partnership and become better at co-ordinating and aligning our research programmes to make sure that we fund the best research and researchers.
By only funding excellent research, we can leverage the individual investments of Member States to achieve greater collective impact.
By aligning and co-ordinating the institutional and competitive funding committed under national research programmes, which account for 88% of the public research investments in Europe, we can better exploit our resources for maximum societal impact.
These ideas are at the heart of Joint Programming.
Different Joint Programmes may decide on different ways to implement their Strategic Research Agenda. There will be no one-size-fits-all approach. But there are a number of tools that are already being tested.
The report of the High Level Group on Joint Programming, which I invite you all to read, highlights success stories from almost all the JPIs, ranging from contributing to the European Innovation Partnerships to developing a mapping database open to a broad public.
You should be proud of these successes and the partnerships that have been established.
The better we know the European research arena in a given field, the easier it will be to identify opportunities for cooperation and coordination.
Coordination is easier in some areas than others. For example, research on the human genome can be more easily split up between different research teams.
Other areas may be more complex, particularly if the challenge being addressed is interdisciplinary.
That is why mapping exercises are important, and this is one of the tools that EU funding can support.
Within the JPIs, a lot of the emphasis so far has been on joint calls. This is an important tool, but we should not fall into the trap of thinking that this is the only or even the best approach. Joint calls are very resource intensive, so we must be selective in their use.
I think that the experience so far demonstrates that joint calls can only be a limited part of implementation.
It is certainly an achievement for JPIs to have already launched joint calls. I know how much hard work this represents.
But the amounts so far allocated to these calls represent only a small proportion of the total spent by Member States in the relevant areas of research.
We will never reach our destination by taking such small steps. The goal should be to align much more of the national expenditure under a Joint Programming Initiative.
We also need to ensure that our institutional funding and our big research institutions better coordinate their work to avoid a situation where too many are working on the same part of the Strategic Research Agenda.
We have good examples of coordination already, such as the Human Genome Project, or the Energy Research Alliance. The Alliance developed joint programmes in 13 areas involving the major European research centres, avoiding overlaps in this institutional funding.
In the field of metrology, the proportion of European research co-ordinated either through public-public partnerships or by the Framework Programme reaches almost 50%.
These are very welcome developments, but they remain the exception.
You need to consider all the funding instruments available in a country or region to see which are best suited to tackling the issues identified in the Strategic Research Agendas.
Where relevant, Member States could use Structural Funds through smart specialisation strategies to support the JPIs. The mapping activities of the JPIs can identify useful areas and targets for smart specialisation, in particular areas of a strategic research agenda for which there is insufficient activity and know-how at EU level.
Joint Programming is also an essential element in implementing the European Research Area.
The ERA Communication adopted by the Commission last July asked Member States to remove any legal and other barriers to the cross-border interoperability of national research programmes.
In light of this, research-funding organisations should make national research programmes compatible, operable across borders and simpler for researchers.
Alignment of funding should also include grants from open, competitive funding schemes. The EUROSTARS programme is one example of this, with the proposals for competitive funding evaluated at the EU level, while the contracts are managed by national agencies.
Think of all these actions as putting together a common toolkit that all the partners could use. The tools in the kit include funding instruments; infrastructure and specialised expertise.
I think this idea of the toolkit helps us remember that Joint Programming is not an afterthought, or optional add-on to national research, it’s something that must become integral to national research.
So let me talk for a moment policymaker to policymaker. Joint Programming might also mean working in a different way within your own administrations, ensuring that the people who are developing national research plans are always in close contact with their ‘Europe desks’ – the people responsible for cooperation with other countries.
If this process becomes a reflex for all the decision makers involved, then we can look forward to a time, when a majority of research in a field addressed by a Joint Programming Initiative is aligned to its Strategic Research Agenda.
I've been concentrating on the need to align and coordinate budgets and agendas. But there are other issues to be addressed.
The ERA Communication that I mentioned a moment ago was endorsed by the Council in its conclusions of 11 December last year, and it is now the responsibility of the Member States, the Commission and the various stakeholders to ensure that these actions are implemented.
I would like to underline the Commission's willingness to help Member States and stakeholder organisations in their efforts.
A big part of that help will be to ensure that Horizon 2020 supports and complements the Joint Programming Initiatives – this brings me to my second point, about how these two initiatives will interact.
Currently the Commission, when planning Horizon 2020, and the Member States, when developing JPIs, are not yet interacting with each other in a systematic way as they define their respective research priorities for the same or related societal challenges.
This has to change. As public funders of research, we need to get better at setting priorities, choose where we can make the biggest impact with public money in a European context, and recognise that we can't do everything, and nor should we try.
Just as we are asking the Member States to be much more strategic in setting and implementing agendas, so we need to be much more strategic with Horizon 2020, and ensure it complements the Joint Programming Initiatives.
But Horizon 2020 won't just be a complement to the JPIs; it will also give them practical help.
Continuing the support already offered under the 7th Framework Programme, Horizon 2020 is ready to assist Member States in their work to align national research programmes and begin the process of implementing their Strategic Research Agendas.
This help could take the form of joint peer reviews, mapping exercises, and foresight or ex-post evaluation; synchronised calls, planning of joint infrastructures and the coordination of networks.
To understand what is required, I have asked my services to work with and hear from the JPIs on how Horizon 2020 can support the process of implementing their Strategic Research Agendas.
This cooperation will be just one more example of how Joint Programming is, in practice as well as in theory, a very 'joint' endeavour.
Of course, at the heart of the concept is the cooperation between Member States and stakeholders. But let me assure you that my staff and I are willing to accompany you every step of the way.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a particularly important conference, and a lot of attention will be paid to the outcomes of your discussions. Indeed, the conclusions will be discussed with Ministers at the meeting of the Competitiveness Council in May.
I wish you an excellent conference, full of good ideas and interesting discussions.