The Framework Programme Horizon 2020 is one of the EU’s so-called flagship initiatives and a financial instrument for funding research and innovation. It is not, however, a titillating conversation piece, nor is it an easy source of fascinating stories for science journalists, or any journalists for that matter.
Why should science journalists care about some old (or, in this case, new) framework programme, when the Chinese are going to space and the seas are full of lobsters that don’t age (and other fantastic science stories)?
First of all, we should care about the Horizon 2020 as citizens because it is one of the European Commission’s, and therefore the entire Union’s, main weapons against the economic crisis. Or at least it could be. Reasearch & Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn likes to reminisce in her speeches about how Finland climbed from the economic depression of the early nineties by investing in education and research. This lesson is unfortunately slipping away from both Finnish and European decision makers.
The Horizon 2020 budget, once sketched out to be around 80 billion Euros, is likely to end up closer to 70 billion. Still, that is an increase from the 2007-2013 period.
Secondly, we should care about the Horizon 2020 because every university and research institution around Europe cares about it, and they will plan their research agendas around its different pillars, challenges, goals and who knows what. The science academies care, too, as they are currently rallying to make sure that the role of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) will not be diminished to a footnote in the final Horizon 2020 document, against Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn’s assurances.
Thirdly, journalists have a responsibility to bring public interest stories to light, making people care about things that they would not otherwise care about, And there are real stories to be found under the bureaucratic fluff of the Horizon 2020. For example, why is it that some countries are more successful in the calls then others? Our dear Finland lags far behind its neighbor, Sweden, in the number of proposals accepted by the European Research Council.
The overall acceptance rate for all Finnish research proposals under the current 7th Framework Program is around 30%, a little over the European average. But when you focus on the SSH disciplines, the rate drops dramatically by more than 15 percentage points. Why is that? I, for one, would care to know.