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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Launch of Horizon 2020 in Malta

Horizon 2020 launch event

Brussels, 7 February 2014

Parliamentary Secretary Buontempo, Minister Bartolo,


Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk to you about an island nation on the periphery of Europe.

A people with a long, proud history that was intertwined with the United Kingdom, and who asserted their independence in the 20th century.

A nation where for many years, emigration was the main option for young people to make their way in the world.

A country with a well-educated workforce that speaks English and has a lot to offer inward investors. A small country with a minority language in a European Union of half a billion people.

I'm talking about my home country, Ireland. But I could just as easily be talking about Malta.

And in addition to the similarities I have just mentioned, at the time that they joined the EU, Malta and Ireland each had an underdeveloped science base and a lot of potential to fulfil.

Horizon 2020 presents huge opportunities for scientists and innovators in Malta to fulfil that potential.

You will hear much more detailed information in the sessions today about the content of Horizon 2020, how to apply and how to participate in a project.

I would just like to highlight what I think are the most exciting opportunities offered by the new programme and what I expect the programme to deliver to you.

With nearly 80 billion euro in funding over seven years, Horizon 2020 is one of the few areas of the EU’s new budget that sees a major increase in resources.

This is a roughly 30 per cent increase in real terms on the 7th Framework Programme for Research, and I am determined that this money will be invested as wisely and efficiently as possible. This is so vital because we know from recent experience that investment in research and innovation now is the best way to ensure sustainable growth and jobs in the future.

Two of the most important themes running through Horizon 2020 are simplification and coherence.

As regards simplification, from the start of my mandate it has been my top priority to make it easier for our scientists and business people to access EU funding so they spend less time on administration and more time on research and innovation.

Simplification applies across the whole programme. While FP7 had lots of different rules, Horizon 2020 applies the same rules everywhere, which means it is now much easier to apply for and to participate in projects.

Projects will be up and running in eight months – four months sooner than under FP7 – and there will be less paperwork and fewer audits.

As well as reforming how we administer funding, we have redesigned the programme architecture from top to bottom to be much more coherent.

By bringing together all the EU-level funding for research and innovation under one roof, we can support you at every step of the journey from excellent fundamental research all the way to innovative products and services.

In other words, Horizon 2020 will be there from lab, to factory, to market.

You may already know that one of the biggest changes is Horizon 2020's challenge-based approach.

This is because the challenges facing Europe - whether food and energy security, clean transport, public health or security – cannot be solved by a single field of science or technology, let alone a single Member State.

That is where 'European added value' makes the crucial difference: making a bigger impact and getting better results from taxpayers' money by helping the best researchers work together irrespective of borders.

These complex challenges will need solutions that draw upon many different areas of research and innovation and that’s why interdisciplinarity is such a crucial aspect of Horizon 2020.

So we are encouraging researchers to get out of their silos, and we expect broader societal aspects to be addressed by embedding the Socio-Economic Science and Humanities across the whole programme.

We will also be less prescriptive about what projects need to do. However, we will be more demanding about the impacts that projects must have, and this will be one of the key criteria for selecting which proposals get funding.

We are counting on Europe’s scientists to produce excellent research that will direct us to both the answers to our societal challenges and to the innovation that is vital to our economy.

So Horizon 2020 champions the very best science, with a significant increase in funding for the prestigious European Research Council and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions on researcher training, mobility and careers.

Horizon 2020 is also very good for business. I was determined from the outset to get more companies participating in European research and innovation projects. I hope that many more Maltese companies will take the bait!

More money will be available for testing, prototyping, demonstration and pilot type activities, for business-driven R&D, for promoting entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and for shaping demand for innovative products and services.

We will be supporting public private partnerships with major companies in areas such as aeronautics, pharmaceuticals and the bioeconomy.

But we're not just focusing on the biggest companies. Horizon 2020 has been designed to be good for small and medium-sized companies too. We expect more than 9 billion euro to flow to SMEs over the next seven years.

The new tailor-made SME instrument and the new financing options in the form of risk-sharing to support innovative SMEs could be especially interesting for Malta.

Another major goal for Horizon 2020 is wider participation, and for all countries and regions to build the level of excellence needed to be successful in the Programme.

The results of the recent Innovation Union Scoreboard show major disparities in Member States' innovation performance. In fact the research and innovation divide is widening - for reasons such as low levels of national investment, inefficiencies in national research and science systems and poor knowledge transfer.

One result has been a lower rate of participation in FP7.

Since Horizon 2020 aims to fund the very best research and innovation, it will of course continue to allocate funding on a competitive basis - promoting excellence demands as much.

But the programme also allocates around 800 million euro for new measures to spread excellence and widen participation, to ensure that Horizon 2020 is open to a wide range of participants.

These instruments seek to build partnerships between Europe's lower-performing institutions and top-flight universities and research centres.

The Teaming action will develop centres of excellence on the basis of partnerships with internationally leading institutions; Twinning will promote excellence through knowledge transfer and the exchange of best practice, and the ERA Chairs will bring the very best researchers to institutions with great research and innovation potential.

These new instruments present Maltese research and innovation actors with the opportunity to create partnerships with established centres of excellence elsewhere in the EU. Such partnerships could help build the capacity needed to elevate Malta’s research and innovation system to the highest European standards.

Horizon 2020 and the new Cohesion policy have been designed to work hand-in-hand to promote excellence.

Under the new Cohesion policy, Member States and regions should develop Smart Specialisation Strategies that build on their particular strengths. This means that they will be betting on their most likely winners.

In fact, such a strategy will be a precondition to research and innovation funding from the European Structural and Investment Funds. Research and innovation must feature among the priorities of the Smart Specialisation Strategies and the Partnership Agreements that open up access to the huge funding opportunities of the Structural Funds.

I know that Malta is currently finalising its Smart Specialisation Strategy. I think it is vitally important that future investments have a clear entrepreneurial outlook that will serve to stimulate a strong demand for innovation, job creation and growth. The Commission is looking forward to working with Malta on finalising the Partnership Agreement and Operational Programme over the coming months.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are just some of the many opportunities that Horizon 2020 offers to researchers and innovators in Malta. But where should they begin?

Building on your experience in FP7 and focusing on the areas identified in your Smart Specialisation Strategy are good places to start. So too is investing more in the people who can assist in the preparation of proposals and the forging of partnerships with Europe’s most experienced organisations

Participants from Malta have drawn down over 17 million euro in funding under the 7th Framework Programme, with greatest success in the areas of information and communication technologies; transport, including aeronautics, and research for SMEs.

Malta is an island economy, but I have no doubt that you are interested in the research and innovation potential in other areas besides the immediately obvious ones like maritime and tourism.

Known to be nimble and quick, Malta’s size can be used to its advantage to maximise opportunities in new areas of research and innovation. Recent developments in the aviation sector, which has seen a sudden proliferation in foreign high-tech investment, is just one example of the huge potential of Malta’s talented workforce.

The presence of pharmaceutical companies in Malta is something that you can certainly build on, and energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy are issues you could address both from the technological side and as societal challenges.

I know that electricity prices were a hot topic in the last general election, not to mention the huge importance of the construction sector in the Maltese economy, which with the right incentives, could spur greater innovation and private investment in research.

Take advantage of the possibility to investigate other societal challenges that are important to Malta, such as sustaining the natural water supply through smart management technologies; sustaining fishing stocks through innovative aquaculture; transport and mobility, demographic change or immigration and border security. All of these issues are concerns in other Member States and are ripe for research under the societal challenges pillar.

Success in Horizon 2020 will depend on a number of factors, many of which are in the hands of national authorities, universities and business.

I give a similar message wherever I go in Europe: we need to do better on research and innovation!

The European Research Area Progress report was well received by the European Council last autumn, where Heads of State and Government underlined the need for further reform of Europe's research systems in order to get a maximum return on investment.

We need to transform our industries and economies to create the growth and jobs that Europe so desperately needs.

This is what our European Research Area and Innovation Union policies are all about. Member States remain the key drivers for change and I know that Malta is taking steps in the right direction.

I warmly welcome Malta’s renewed political commitment to achieve an ambitious level of 2% of GDP spending on research and innovation by 2020. I encourage you to keep this goal firmly in sight. As we have learned from other countries in the EU, continued investment in research and innovation is the key to building a sustainable economy and creating growth and jobs.

I encourage you to adopt and implement the National Strategy on Research and Innovation and your Smart Specialisation Strategy as soon as possible.

Successful reforms could pay off both in terms of winning more funding from Horizon 2020 and in bringing more private research investment into the country.

But Horizon 2020 isn't just about the money - it can help you to develop strong and durable research and innovation networks and give you access to new and fast-growing markets, often in high-tech sectors.

For me, this is another major part of the added-value of European funding: it enables you to perform research and innovation in Europe which would otherwise be impossible because of the very high costs and lack of critical mass.

Horizon 2020 also emphasises innovation and knowledge transfer. This will help Malta to increase the linkages and connections between research, innovation and industry. It's a challenge faced by many Member States, but one that is at the heart of your research and innovation efforts and your own smart specialisation strategy.

I am very confident that with Malta's encouraging commitment to increase national investments by 2020, many more of your researchers, businesses and innovators will participate in Horizon 2020.

So I am issuing a call and a challenge today – find out how you can participate, and sign up! Whatever your objective, you will be helping Malta reach its full research and innovation potential.

Your active participation will be good for Malta and good for Europe.

Thank you.

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