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EU Framework Programmes for Research & Innovation

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The framework programme for research was originally set up in the 1980s to streamline the adoption of Community research programmes. With the subsequent iterations of the process and Treaty modifications, the framework programme became a financial and strategic tool to support and implement EU research and innovation policies. As the scope of the framework programme widened and with the multiplication of the type of instruments used to implement it, the framework programme progressively supported all activities of the innovation process, research being just one of them. As the discussions on the structure and content of FP9 are expected to begin in autumn 2017, this paper reflects on the evolution of the framework programme since its origin and points out key issues that will be debated in the coming years among the European institutions, the Member States and stakeholders regarding the structure of the framework programme, its objectives and its implementation.


The involvement of the European Union in research activities (outside the coal and nuclear fields) began in the 1970s with the adoption by the Council of the first Community research programmes. These were adopted one by one as the need for research in a specific area at European level emerged. At the beginning of the 1980s, the European Commission proposed the framework programme (FP) for research as a strategic tool to manage the adoption of research programmes in a more coherent way.

Although no Treaty articles provided a clear legal basis for the adoption of these programmes, the first framework programme (FP1) was adopted in 1983. The Single European Act (1986) introduced research as a Community competence in the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and provided a firm legal basis for the adoption of the following FPs. FP2 and FP3 were adopted in 1987 and 1990 respectively with increased budgets. The Treaty of Maastricht, which entered into force in 1993, modified the legal basis for the adoption of FPs, transforming them into financial tools for EU research activities. It also broadened the range of topics for which research programmes could be conducted by the EU. With FP4 and FP5 adopted in 1994 and 1998 the scope of the FP was enlarged and the focus on pre-competitive research was abandoned for an approach that would see the FP addressing societal challenges and supporting a wider range of activities in the innovation process. The development of the European Research Area concept in 2000 marked a clear shift in the evolution of the FP.

FP6 and FP7, adopted in 2002 and 2006 respectively, were designed to implement this EU research policy, which aimed to address the fragmentation of the European research landscape. The adoption of the Europe 2020 strategy and the Innovation Union flagship initiative in 2010 influenced the structure of FP8, which was adopted in 2013 and named Horizon 2020.

As the FP evolved, the instruments used for its implementation diversified. The initial grants for transnational cooperative research projects were complemented, inter alia, by the development of public-public and public-private partnerships, the establishment of new structures such as the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), specific instruments for SME support, and individual mobility grants. With Horizon 2020 the FP became a programme of programmes covering all aspects of the innovation process and implementing various EU policies. Complexity in the management and implementation of the FP brought about a new level of fragmentation at EU level regarding the funding of innovation-related activities.

While discussions on the structure and priorities of FP9 are expected to begin in autumn 2017, an examination of the evolution of the FP highlights several issues that will have to be addressed: the lack of clarity regarding the EU innovation policy that the FP is expected to implement; the balance between the various aspects of the innovation process supported by the FP, research being just one of these; evaluation of the EU added value of the FP and its components, justifying support for each of these aspects; assessment of the existing instruments and their efficiency at EU level to rationalise the EU funding landscape and limit fragmentation; the balance between collaborative action and single beneficiary measures, the share of which has increased sharply in recent FPs; the balance between a focus on excellence that results in the concentration of innovation capacity and efforts to reduce the innovation gap with countries and regions requesting more cohesion measures; and the balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches when defining the programme’s priorities.

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SOURCE: European Parliament Think Tank