The management and valorisation of intellectual assets produced by publicly funded European research is increasingly influenced by global developments. On the one hand, we need global openness to combat climate change or global health issues. At the same time, rising geopolitical tensions have exposed risks and vulnerabilities in European societies and economies that need to be addressed.
In June, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy jointly adopted the European Economic Security Strategy that aims to strike a balance between the EU’s economic security, while preserving its economic openness and dynamism.
It’s no coincidence that research and the valorisation of scientific knowledge are an important part of this strategy: the development of critical technologies, for example, is a major contributor to the EU’s economic base, competitiveness and growth. Technology security and technology leakage are therefore counted among the four non-exhaustive categories of risks. Further categories are the resilience of supply chains (including energy security), physical and cyber security of critical infrastructure, and weaponization of economic dependencies and economic coercion. It is underlined that risks can occur along the whole value chain, from knowledge creation and basic research to commercialisation and manufacturing at scale.
The Strategy describes three priorities to mitigate risks, which are all relevant for research and innovation:
- Promoting the EU's competitiveness
The Strategy promotes efforts to foster the research and industrial base in strategic areas as advanced semi-conductors, quantum computing, biotechnology, net-zero industries, clean energy or critical raw materials, which will all strengthen our industrial base, technological sovereignty and value chains. The Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP) is a brand new measure to develop critical technologies. Last but not least, we need enough support for the research and development of dual-use technologies.
- Protecting the EU's economic security
Improving research security is of course also key. The Strategy envisages to ensure a systematic and rigorous enforcement of the existing tools and address any remaining gaps, especially when it comes to the Horizon Europe Framework Programme where we must also preserve its openness.
The toolkit on tackling foreign R&I interference will help to raise awareness and build resilience in the R&I sector across Europe to underpin research security more broadly. And let’s not forget the Code of Practice on the management of intellectual assets for knowledge valorisation that is a very useful guide for R&I cooperations and promotes a role for facilitators to assist partners in international collaborations.
On the practical side of research security, risk mitigation measures are already there in Horizon Europe. In addition to the general ethical and security screening, the Horizon Europe Regulation provides for the possibility to limit participation to safeguard EU strategic assets, interests, autonomy or security (Article 22 (5)). This may concern entities established in non-EU countries and entities controlled by non-EU countries or by entities established in those countries. Any limitations must be established ex ante in the Horizon Europe work programme. They currently apply to 31 topics in the 2023-2024 work programmes, in particular on quantum research, space and critical raw materials.
It is also possible to set additional eligibility criteria in the work programme (Article 22(6)) that are justified by policy requirements or the nature and objectives of the action. For example, the Horizon Europe work programme 2023-24 excludes entities established in China from participating in close-to-market Innovation Actions, reflecting the lack of progress on innovation-related framework conditions in the negotiations of a joint roadmap for the future of EU-China cooperation in science, technology, and innovation.
Regarding the results of Horizon Europe funded projects, the Commission or other funding bodies can object to transfers of ownership or grants of an exclusive licence to entities established in a non-associated third country. This applies up to four years after the end of the action if the transfer is ‘not in line with Union interests’(Art. 40(4)). Beneficiaries that plan to transfer ownership or grant an exclusive licence must formally notify the granting authority beforehand. Horizon Europe beneficiaries should be well aware of this obligation, which will be monitored by the Commission.
The European Strategy proposes to develop with Member States a framework for assessing and managing risks affecting the EU's economic security. This includes establishing a list of technologies critical to economic security that starts with a list of critical dual-use technologies. The identification of these technologies may have an impact on the implementation of Horizon Europe.
- Partnering with the broadest possible range of countries.
We are of course stronger together. That is why the Strategy underlines the importance of partnering with countries that share the Union’s economic security concerns, and notably with those like-minded partners that share common interests.
For example, in July 2023, New Zealand became associated to Pillar 2 of Horizon Europe. New Zealand’s researchers and organisations can now participate in project consortia on equal terms with EU partners. This marks the first association with a partner that is not geographically close to Europe. It shows how the EU is strengthening even more its ties with trusted partners that have a robust research track record. The EU is also engaged in negotiations and discussions with Canada, the Republic of Korea and Japan for joining Horizon Europe.