The beauty with science is that it is borderless, and that success comes through collaboration.

Last week the European Commission brought togehter policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs and the public to their annual flagship event – The European Research and Innovations Days. This year it was a fully virtual event with over 30 000...

Last week the European Commission brought togehter policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs and the public to their annual flagship event – The European Research and Innovations Days. This year it was a fully virtual event with over 30 000 registered participants. The purpose was to debate and shape the future of research in Europe and beyond.

As the Swedish Science and Innovation Counselor to the U.S., I was invited by the Commission to the session: European Partnerships: Stepping up the game, to reflect and talk about the European Partnerships in a global context.

The Partnerships under Horizon Europe are expected to drive EU-wide transformationand and will also be an essential part of the budget of the Horizon Europe. Partnerships represent a collaboration with a purpose. They will be one of the key tools for enabling the transitions towards greener and digitally-enabled society and economy by mobilising key players across Europe around a common vision and acting as experimental platforms for developing systemic R&I solutions.

In the proposed portfolio of 49 candidate partnerships, the majority aim at addressing transformational failures. In June 2020, the draft proposals elaborated by partners were published. The final decisions on European Partnerships will depend on whether they meet the criteria of directionality and additionality. European Partnerships are open for participation to all types of actors (private and/or public partners) such as industry, universities, research organisations, bodies with a public service mission at local, regional, national or international level or civil society organisations including foundations and NGOs.

The welcoming remarks for the Partnership session during the R&I-days was given by the Director General of DG Reserach and Innovation Jean-Eric Paquet, in which he stressed the importance of the Partnerships and their impact driven nature of Horizon Europe.

The session was moderated by Darja Isaksson the General Director at Vinnova, Sweden’s Innovation Agency. The other panelists were:

Àngels Orduña Cao, Executive Director of A.SPIRE. A representative of a candidate European Partnership “Processes4Planet”.
Dr. Hilde Eggermont, Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO). A representative of a candidate European Partnership “Biodiversity”.
Dr. Janez Potočnik, former European Union Commissioner and the co-chair of the International Resource Panel hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme.

My key messages during the session were the following:

“It makes sense for European Partnerships to team up with international partners. It’s good for Europe! It’s necessary for solving the global challenges! In fact, European Partnerships are a very attractive entry point for international partners as in them, you have the major players under one roof.

What can Europe do to step up the game, as called for by the Commission. How can we create a European Innovation ecosystem that is more disruptive and manages to scale up European success stories? What can we learn from others?

Based on my first-hand experience as the Swedish Science and Innovation Counsellor in the U.S., there are 4 key elements for success:

  • Strategic focus. To be innovative you need to be strategic (this is the whole idea of the new approach for European Partnerships under Horizon Europe).
  • Commitment for long term and sufficient funding.
  • Able to attract talent (this should follow if we are bold enough with our ambition).
  • Strong university-industry cooperation – we have great examples of innovative regional hubs with a global outreach on both sides of the Atlantic.

Just quickly look at the importance of large-scale federal research funding in the U.S. after World War II: It has historically created disruptive technologies, like the Internet and GPS technology. In addition, federal funding is the foundation and the reason why we today have so many successful and innovate U.S companies.

13 out of the 16 largest tech companies in the World are American; Apple, Google, Amazon etc.

The U.S. also managed to create success stories with Dual Use; which means that military research became a tool also for civil applications. Look, for instance how DARPA innovates with their project models and how it is accepted to fail

The U.S. has further created 17 national labs with a surrounding ecosystems connected to industry and universities. In Sweden we are, for instance, proud of the European Spallation Source – ESS – and MaxIV (at Lund university) facilities with the surrounding Science Village.

ESS, MaxIV, Science Village Scandinavia and Lund university – Sweden

In addition, The White House recently announced a 1-billion-dollar investment on Quantum and AI – building up 12 research institutes. Now is a perfect opportunity for relevant European Partnership to connect with them.

Talent attraction: with the pandemic and a more restrictive migration policy, the flow of competence could and will change. So where will they go? Europe, Asia…? Therefore, increased mobility is a key feature for Europe to succeed with its Missions and Partnerships.

Look at the Nobel laureates America managed to attract and support – about 40 % of the laureates since 1901 are Americans or have a connection to an American institute.

Finally, it’s hard to have excellent research and innovation without excellent education.  Silicon Valley is a beautiful example of this. Please contact me if you are interested, I would be happy to elaborate and describe the reason why I think Silicon Valley succeeded and how countries and organization should have a strategic connection to the Valley. 

Other trends that I see as valuable ingredients for stepping up the game are:

  • Investing in Social Good which is finally becoming profitable.
  • We need to innovate with equity in mind.
  • I also see that several of the European partnerships have the possibility to work on the ‘Digital Divide’ – meaning that a large number of the population don’t have access to the Internet (in the US about 30 million people is in that situation). This in combination with the Black Lives Matter movement will probably have a large impact on future policies.

As a conclusion, I strongly recommend, we need to make international R&I cooperation a trademark of EU research and innovation actions, including European Partnerships. Europe has all the necessary ingredients to succeed.”

Henric Johnson


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If you work in science and innovation and would like to learn more about the U.S. or need help with identifying or finding new contacts, please reach out to us. We would be more than happy to guide you in the right direction.

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Greetings from the Office of Science and Innovation in Washington D.C.