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Speech: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the EIT: a research opportunity for UK

European Commission - SPEECH/14/81   31/01/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the EIT: a research opportunity for UK

The Royal Society, Horizon 2020 Launch conference

London, 31 January 2014


Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'm delighted to be here with you today for the launch of the new Horizon 2020 programme and would like to thank the organisers for hosting this event.

At a time when parts of Europe are experiencing weak economic growth, it is more important than ever to find ways of supporting a dynamic and excellence-based research sector which delivers strong innovation capacity.

With Horizon 2020, Europe invests specifically in its most vital resource – its talented people – not only in research but also in its businesses, industry, universities, and students. This is a positive message that I believe we can all relate to, in particular in the run-up to the European elections in May of this year.

The budgetary debates have not always been easy, but with nearly 80 billion euros available over the next 7 years, Horizon 2020 can clearly become an engine of economic recovery and innovation-led growth in Europe.

Now, all of us involved – researchers, small and large businesses, universities, national and regional authorities – have to embrace the opportunities offered by this new programme together. To talk about these opportunities is the purpose of my speech, and I very much thank the organisers for having given me the possibility of doing so.

Horizon 2020 will expand two successful initiatives under my responsibility: the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

By increasing the budgets for both the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the EIT, Europe is sending a strong signal: we are investing in our people and reinforcing European support for multi-national partnerships that bring together academia and other organisations such as businesses. We know that these partnerships can stimulate economic growth, offering the innovative higher education that employers are looking for.

In the case of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Union will continue offering researchers exciting opportunities to work abroad for their career development.

Researchers at any stage of their career will be able to gain experience at leading centres in another country. The programme will strongly encourage researchers to move between sectors to further develop their innovation skills and increase their employability both inside and outside academia. In other words, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions will build on the great progress that we have already made.

The EU Member States and the European Parliament have agreed to allocate 8% of the Horizon 2020 budget to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – over 6 billion euros in funding. Thanks to this higher budget – 30% more compared to the current programme – the EU will be able to support around 65,000 researchers over the next seven years.

The United Kingdom has been the largest beneficiary of the Marie Curie Actions under the seventh framework programme, and will continue to benefit substantially from the new programme.

Since 2007, the United Kingdom has been awarded over 965 million euros in funding for the Marie Curie Actions. This has benefited 941 UK researchers who have been able to gain valuable skills and experience abroad; and 4,436 foreign researchers have received a Marie Curie grant to do research in the UK.

In total, 3,512 organisations from the UK – universities, research organisations and businesses, including small and medium enterprises – participated in 2,915 Marie Curie projects.

This higher budget will make the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions the main EU programme for doctoral training, for around 25,000 candidates. They will support not only industrial doctorates – where researchers must spend half of their time in companies – but also joint doctorates, and other innovative forms of research training that will provide researchers with experience outside academia.

There will also be a new feature: the co-funding of regional, national and international doctoral programmes.

This will enable Europe to support even further national or regional mobility schemes, whether they already exist or are newly created. Such co-funding will reinforce the impact of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions on the conditions for researchers across Europe, helping to keep and attract the best talent – one of the goals of the strategy I presented to EU Education Ministers last summer on 'European Higher Education in the World'.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, by bringing together the European Research and Higher Education Areas, will enable us to promote quality, employability and mobility as benchmarks for doctoral training. And in doing so, the EU will help to prepare European researchers for the world of today and tomorrow, while making Europe an attractive place to do research.

The first Marie Skłodowska-Curie calls under Horizon 2020 have already been launched in December. The Innovative Training Networks Call for over 405 million euros will be open until April 9th, and the Call for the new action, Research and Innovation Staff Exchange, totalling 70 million euros will receive applications until April 24th via the Participant Portal.

The 2014 call for the Individual Fellowships for a total funding of over 240 million euros is expected to be published in March, and the one for COFUND for 80 million euros in April.

The call for the European Researchers' Night has also been launched and will be open until March. This is an event raising awareness of research and innovation activities with a view to supporting the public recognition of researchers, the public's understanding of researchers' work, and encouraging young people to embark on scientific careers.

The total budget for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie calls in 2014 amounts to over 800 million euros. I would like to use this opportunity to encourage as many organisations as possible from the UK to participate in these calls.

Next to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – the EIT – will also be playing an important role.

With a new budget of 2.7 billion euros, it is our ambition to see the EIT grow into a fully-fledged innovation institute at the service of Europe. We want the EIT to have what it takes to boost the innovation capacity of the Union and its Member States through highly integrated partnerships between higher education, research and business, the so called Knowledge and Innovation Communities or KICs.

Since its creation in 2008, the EIT and its KICs have trained more than 1,000 students and supported more than 100 start-ups, with these companies launching around 90 products and services. And the potential is important since more than 400 business ideas are currently being incubated.

So the EIT – and its first KICs – have shown that the concept is worth investing in. We are changing the way we approach innovation in Europe, the way we understand it, by building on already existing clusters of excellence and by bridging the gap from research to business models reaching the markets. With the EIT, we create the entrepreneurs of tomorrow in Europe.

Many of you here today have been working closely within the existing KICs, be it in the Climate KIC or the ICT Labs, which have just established a co-location centre in London bringing together Imperial College London, University College London, Intel and BT among other top organisations.

And I would like to thank you for this. It is your mobilisation and your commitment which contributed to the success of the EIT in its early phase and which helped to secure a bright future for the EIT.

For those of you who have not yet been involved in the EIT, I welcome you to a new way of doing things. And now is the right time to get organised for the future KICs. This February, the selection process for two new KICs in healthy living and active ageing and in raw materials will be launched.

Knowing the expertise that can be found in the United Kingdom in these fields and the current high participation, I look forward to seeing even more UK participation in the EIT.

The process will continue in 2016 and 2018 when new KICs join the EIT community in areas such as the food supply, added value manufacturing, and urban mobility.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the EIT are designed to trigger the type of innovative thinking that can benefit European society at large. They foster smart and sustainable economic growth at a time when it matters most. And they tap into the talent of the individuals behind research and innovation who are the key to Europe's future.

Let me leave you with the words of Marie Skłodowska-Curie, a woman whom I admire for her drive and passion: "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."

Thank you.

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