Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Horizon 2020 Strategy Funding
105. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation how Ireland will be able to maximise funding for research and development under the Horizon 2020 plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17458/14]
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating us. I must point out that we were elsewhere on the premises dealing with other business.
Horizon 2020 is hugely important for this country. The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, has indicated that a potential gain of €1.1 billion over the next ten years has been identified. How is it intended to pursue this funding and, in particular, how will SMEs - as opposed to third level institutions - be able to access it?
Horizon 2020, with a budget of just under €80 billion and covering the period 2014 to 2020, is the European Union's largest ever research and innovation programme. It is also the largest such programme worldwide. Horizon 2020 is a core part of the Europe 2020 strategy, the innovation union and the European research area and is responding to the economic crisis in Europe by investing in future jobs and growth, addressing people's concerns about their livelihoods, safety and environment and strengthening the EU's global position in research, innovation and technology. Under the seventh framework programme for research, technological development and innovation 2007-13, Ireland secured almost €600 million and thereby achieved the national target set for Irish participation.
The objectives of Horizon 2020 are to enable the creation of a world-class research system for Europe, support European leadership in industrial development and address grand challenges affecting society. My Department, building on the performance under the seventh framework programme, has been instrumental in putting in place an all-of-Government strategy to maximise the funding available to Ireland. In December 2013, the Government approved a national strategy for participation in Horizon 2020 and set an ambitious target of €1.25 billion - a huge amount - in respect of funding to Ireland over the lifetime of the programme. The strategy sets out a comprehensive range of actions designed to maximise Ireland's participation in the programme and achieve the target involved.
A Horizon 2020 high level group, under the chairmanship of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, has been established and its work will include identifying key areas of opportunity where Irish researchers, agencies and companies - the latter is important in the context of the Deputy's question - can maximise their participation. A support network of national contact points co-ordinated by Enterprise Ireland has been established. This network comprises knowledgeable and experienced practitioners from relevant Departments who have been charged with the job of delivery. The national strategy for Horizon 2020 also provides for all relevant Government Departments and agencies to allocate the necessary resources for its full implementation. The high level group will monitor Ireland’s participation under the programme, as well as implementation of the national strategy.
Will the Minister of State confirm whether a plan has been prepared? If the answer is in the negative, will he indicate when one will be prepared and submitted to the Commission for consideration? The role played by Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, our Commissioner to the EU, in respect of this matter should be acknowledged. This is the only area in respect of which an increase has been achieved under the new EU budget. The Commissioner will remain in Europe for a few months more and it would be a shame if we did not use her skills - particularly as I cannot see her being replaced by anyone of equivalent ability - in order to maximise opportunities for Ireland under Horizon 2020. We should also use her expertise afterwards.
In specific terms the question must be asked, is there a plan? If there is not, when will one be prepared and submitted? Will there be opportunities through, for example, the local enterprise office, LEO, network for funding to be provided to SMEs which may not be linked to third level institutions or their PhD programmes but which may want to expand their operations by using opportunities available under Horizon 2020?
There is a central office within Enterprise Ireland, which is under the management of Ms Julie Sinnamon, and I have no doubt it will make plans to maximise the amount of funding to be obtained by Ireland. The Deputy must remember that the Government approved a national strategy for participation in Horizon 2020 and set an ambitious target of €1.25 billion in respect of funding to Ireland over the lifetime of the programme. Ireland was successful in achieving its target of €600 million in respect of the seventh framework programme and the target for Horizon 2020 represents a doubling of this. It was determined that an ambitious but realistic target be set in order to drive the fullest engagement on the part of both the public and private sectors. It must be noted that there is private sector involvement and that it is not all public. Science Foundation Ireland also has its own plan.
A high level group on Horizon 2020, under the chairmanship of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and with Enterprise Ireland to the fore, has been established to oversee the national strategy. In the context of encouraging the application of competitive advantage, opportunities for Ireland exist across many areas of the Horizon 2020. The network of national contact points, comprising experts from all key Departments, is working to maximise these opportunities and to support applicants. The high level group responsible for overseeing the implementation of the national strategy will carry out strategic assessments in respect of the opportunities to which I refer.
In the context of the LEOs, there is money available under the programme for the competitiveness of enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, COSME, fund. This is the first time ever that the Government has secured funding for business. The LEOs will be able to access the COSME, which provides many cross-Border supports and other funding opportunities.
COSME is completely separate from Horizon 2020. I must again ask if there is a national plan in respect of how we are going to obtain the €1.25 billion targeted in the context of Horizon 2020. What is the precise role of the high level group, particularly in the context of the national strategy to which the Minister of State referred? If there is a plan in existence, has it been published and will it be submitted to Brussels for consideration?
This Government has the plans. It not only about having plans. The Government will have actions, straight talk and delivery. The previous Administration had many plans but no delivery. We intend to draw down this funding.