The European Commission published the main findings of the final evaluation of the European Union’s eighth research and innovation funding programme, Horizon 2020. The programme ran from 2014 to 2020 with a budget of nearly €80 billion. It funded more than 35,000 projects over seven years, and its calls for proposals attracted over a million applications from 177 countries.

The evaluation showcases how Horizon 2020 offered value for money to the European society by significantly enhancing research and innovation efforts. It supported larger, more complex research and innovation projects, which would not have been feasible without the EU dimension and the European Commission support.

Scientific impact

The scientific excellence of Horizon 2020 exceeded that of its predecessor, the 7th Framework Programme (2007–2013). The programme significantly advanced various fields, including medical sciences, quantum mechanics, chemical engineering and composite materials. The programme supported 33 Nobel Prize winners, and greatly benefitted early-career researchers, contributing to global scientific excellence. Scientific publications stemming from Horizon 2020-funded projects are cited twice as often as the global average.

Transnational research and innovation funding under Horizon 2020 facilitated key collaborations and resulted in almost 4,000 patents and trademarks.

Societal impact

Horizon 2020 played a pivotal role in addressing societal challenges, in particular climate change, health crises like Ebola and COVID-19, and sustainable energy solutions. The programme ranked as one of the top funding sources for COVID-19 research globally.

One-third of the Horizon 2020 funding was dedicated to climate action, fostering developments in low-emission fuels and prompt responses to health emergencies. The programme concluded by launching a new extra call for proposals dedicated to the Green Deal.

Through interdisciplinary approaches, Horizon Europe emphasised the importance of social sciences and humanities, although integration levels varied. Gender equality improved, with women comprising 42% of the panels evaluating proposals. However, the representation of women in scientific advisory roles and as researchers remained below target, indicating room for progress. 

Economic impact

Horizon 2020 boosted the European economy by creating jobs, driving innovation and enhancing the productivity of participating companies. Looking at the long-term effects, the programme is estimated to add an average of €15.9 billion annually to the EU’s GDP from its launch until 20 years after its end, which equals a total of €429 billion from 2014 to 2040. The programme also generated around 220,000 jobs at its peak.

Horizon 2020 attracted co-investment from public and private sectors through European partnerships, which bring together the European Commission and private and/or public partners to address pressing challenges. Private contributions to these partnerships often exceeded the EU funding. Companies in Horizon 2020 experienced significant growth: a 20% increase in employment and a 30% rise in turnover and assets compared to non-funded counterparts. The programme also facilitated the development of intellectual property rights, with beneficiaries filing thousands of applications.

Several challenges remain and the EU innovation outputs still encounter difficulties in playing a central role in the global markets. In particular, the EU lacks a nurturing and prosperous venture capital environment available to support the scaling-up of innovations. To address this, the European Innovation Council (EIC), which supports the commercialisation of high-risk, high-impact technologies in the EU, was launched as a pilot project within Horizon 2020. Thanks to its promising early results, the EIC became a consolidated financing instrument in the 2021-2027 funding programme, Horizon Europe.

Impact in Luxembourg

As we read about the great impact of Horizon 2020 across the EU, it is interesting and intriguing to narrow the analysis to the research and innovation landscape in Luxembourg. Within the programme, Luxembourg-based institutions:

  • were awarded 557 projects
  • received a total of €201.5 million funding, of which 42.8% (€86.33 million) was allocated to private entities.

The overall success rate of proposals submitted by Luxembourg entities was 16.58%, which considerably exceeds the overall EU average of 12.55%.

The City of Differdange stands out as the first Luxembourg city to successfully engage in Horizon 2020. Its Fusilli project focuses on the transitioning to sustainable urban food systems. Luxembourg’s contribution to COVID-19 research includes the participation of the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) in the ambitious Orchestra project aimed at establishing an international large-scale cohort for the conduct of retrospective and prospective studies.

The University of Luxembourg secured 16 prestigious European Research Council (ERC) grants, with a total budget of €26.4 million. They included three Advanced ERC Grants, seven Consolidator Grants, four Starting Grants and two Proof of Concept Grants. The fields covered range from energy conversion to the effects of microbiota. This remarkable diversity of research topics funded highlights the breadth of excellence within Luxembourg’s academic landscape.

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