Synergies between the EU’s multi-billion Horizon 2020 research programme and the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are not being fully exploited, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Various building blocks needed to create these synergies were not yet in place in the 2014-2020 period. The European Commission and authorities which manage funds in EU countries do not cooperate thoroughly, and fund-managing authorities in the Member States often work in compartmentalised, silo-based structures that prevent them from using the funds in a complementary way. This limits the implementation and impact of research and innovation (R&I) related investments, and hampers efforts to close the R&I divide in Europe.
Between 2014 and 2020, the EU dedicated 12 % of its budget to R&I, more than ever before. Of this, €76.4 billion came from Horizon 2020, and almost €41 billion from the ESIF. The auditors checked whether the Commission and managing authorities in EU countries had taken the requisite steps to create synergies between the funds in order to ensure that they produced a greater effect than individual interventions.
“At a time when citizens depend on our researchers and innovators in so many vital areas – from vaccine development to energy, green and digital transition – we must maximise the impact of R&I funding”, said Ivana Maletić, the ECA member who led the audit. “At first glance, Horizon 2020 and the ESIF might appear to be two different worlds with little in common. But they can achieve a greater impact by working in complement with each other. For this to happen, there needs to be cooperation from the very beginning, in both programme design and implementation.”