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Focus on central and eastern Europe

Welcome to the fifth edition of The Widening newsletter, a roundup of news and analysis on research and innovation policy and investments in central and eastern Europe, delivered to your inbox twice a month. Sign up here.

- By Florin Zubașcu | Executive Editor -

Welcome to the fifth edition of The Widening newsletter, a roundup of news and analysis on research and innovation policy and investments in central and eastern Europe, delivered to your inbox twice a month.

On the menu this week: reviews of R&I reforms in Poland and Hungary, a closer look behind the scenes at the decision of Coventry University in the UK to open a research institute in Wroclaw, a review of the latest R&D funding figures in central and eastern Europe, plus a round up of other news and events.

For more stories like this, sign up here to get the next edition of The Widening.

Here we go:

CONSTITUTION FOR SCIENCE: Poland’s sweeping science reform gets mixed reviews four years after it was rolled out. Some praise it for giving universities a bigger say in how they allocate research funds, while others complain the changes force researchers to scale a points-based assessment system that values publication metrics over research excellence or communicating science through other channels.

Poland adopted the Constitution for Science in 2018 with the aim of bringing the country’s education system closer to the EU standards and to position universities to be more successful in EU R&D funding programmes.

Anna Rzhevkina investigates how the reform changed things in Poland, for better and worse.

HUNGARY: Speaking of reforms,Hungary decided in 2019 to take the research institutes of the Academy of Sciences and put them under a new government-run institution, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), hoping to increase efficiency and operating performance of the country’s research system.

The move was highly controversial, partly because of concerns over academic freedom (not unusual in Hungary), but also because it created lots of confusion around what rights ELKH has to use buildings and research infrastructure owned by the Academy.

Now, a decision by the Hungary’s Constitutional Court says the 2019 transfer of research institutes from the academy to ELKH did not infringe on scientific freedom, but it does infringe the institutes’ property rights. The confusion this is causing is affecting researchers on the ground.  Thomas Brent has the story.

BREXIT BYPASS: Coventry University has opened a research institute in Wroclaw to gain a foothold in mainland Europe and reopen access to EU research funding. The Coventry University Research Institute Europe, specialising in data science and artificial intelligence, is part of a campus the university opened there in 2020, enabling EU students to continue studying for UK degrees, without paying UK-sized tuition fees.

At the same time, the new institute is a distinct legal entity registered in Poland, which means it can sidestep restrictions on UK universities getting access to the €95.5 billion research funding in Horizon Europe. Read the story here.

R&D INVESTMENT: The European Commission is still not getting near to its goal of convincing member states to spend 3% of their GDP on research and development. According to data published by Eurostat this week, the EU average public and private R&D expenditure is 2.27% of GDP, while six countries spent less than 1%. The low spenders, Romania (0.48%), Malta (0.65%), Latvia (0.71%), Bulgaria (0.81%), Cyprus (0.89%) and Slovakia (0.95%), are all classified as Widening countries, underlining how far the European Commission has to go to bridge the gaps in research capabilities by expanding the scope of R&D funding in order to strengthen research and innovation across Europe as a whole.

The impact of the GDP shortfall is evident in EU R&D competitions. The results of the European Research Council’s most recent funding round show countries with smaller research budgets perform less well in international calls. Romania will host only two of the 408 research projects, while Cyprus and Slovakia will each host one. Bulgaria, Latvia and Malta will have none.

SPONSORED REPORT: Science Europe outlines six bottlenecks to a more equal European R&I landscape. In a new paper, the association which represents funding agencies, prescribes more money for R&I, a healthier research culture, more attractive research environments, networking and diversity to tackle brain drain and fragmentation. Read more about the paper here.

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY? We welcome opinion pieces and other contributions on the R&I divide from thought leaders in Brussels and EU capitals. Send yours to

In other news

WORK PROGRAMMES 2023-2024: After months and months of leaks, the European Commission has finally decided to publish Horizon Europe work programmes for 2023 and 2024, including the work programme for widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area. The widening work programme is available here and is meant to give an overview of the topics and calls researchers can expect for the next two years.

The Commission will make available about €900 million to encourage reforms of national R&I systems and mobilise additional investments in R&I capacity in poorer member states, thereby improving participation rates in Horizon Europe.

SYNERGIES: The Commission has also published a guidebook explaining how member states can use both Horizon Europe and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to finance research and innovation projects.

Thanks to new regulations for the 2021-2027 budget, member states could – at least in theory – combine EU money coming from funds under the direct management of the Commission (Horizon Europe) with EU money distributed under shared management by Brussels and EU capitals (ERDF).

The change is meant to help member states with limited R&D coffers to make use of all possible EU funding streams via a flurry of both new and old schemes, such as seals of excellence, transfers, cumulative funding, co-funded and institutionalised European partnerships, and support for teaming projects.

The guidance document explaining how it all works is now available in all EU languages.

FUNDING WOES: Poland’s National Science Centre (NCN) wants the government to allocate an additional €42 million to its budget to help to manage inflation. In an op-ed for the science portal Forum Akademickie, the president of the NCN Council said inflation has reduced the real value of the agency’s grants and pushed down success rates. A budget hike, “would increase the success rate for our calls to around 25%,” said Jacek Kuźnicki.

Without the additional funding, the NCN could reduce the number of projects that can be funded simultaneously, introduce funding limits or cancel calls.

“Supporting the rise of a young generation of researchers and creating the conditions for them to work in Poland will reduce the current brain drain and, in the long run, may even reverse it”, Kuźnicki writes.

SPACE RACE: Several countries in central and eastern Europe have recently announced their intention to boost participation in space research and innovation projects.

The president of the Polish Space Agency says his country already has over 30 companies focused on space research and innovation, which are part of a broader ecosystem that developed over 100 technologies that are already in use or about to be rolled out. Grzegorz Wrochna said Polish companies are able to make use of the country’s €40 million yearly contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA). “Even if we increased our contribution several times, it would still be consumed by Polish companies,” Wochna told Science in Poland news portal.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic intends to increase its contribution to the ESA to enable Czech companies to join European space projects. “The space industry in the Czech Republic is growing every year, we have dozens of companies involved in hundreds of space projects, a solid academic and research background and an active start-up scene,” said transport minister Martin Kupka ahead of the start of the Czech Space Week on Monday.

Last but not least, Romania intends to invest €10 million in aerospace technologies on top of its €62.5 million participation in ESA projects.

SPACE DEBT: On the same optimistic note, Romania has regained access to the ESA after the government paid €65 million of the €102 million in overdue contributions. Research minister Sebastian Burduja announced the move at the ministerial ESA summit in Paris last week. “This means that we have regained our right to vote [in the ESA Council],” he said.

Romania had lost its voting rights in 2018 after the government failed to pay its 2017 contribution. It is the only country in the history of the ESA to have its voting rights suspended. 

STRONGER TIES WITH THE US: Romania plans to open a science and technology office in Silicon Valley to boost cooperation with researchers and entrepreneurs in America’s innovation hotspot, after research minister Sebastian Burduja met with Romanian entrepreneurs and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Burduja, a Stanford graduate, said the new office would help Romania strengthen its science and technology ties with the US.

Romania has recently announced a flurry of US R&D investments, including a deal to test a novel nuclear power station using US-designed small modular reactor technology, and a partnership between US defence giant Lockheed Martin and the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca.

Mark your calendars

BRUSSELS: The Lithuanian Research Development and Innovation Liaison Office in Brussels (LINO) will soon celebrate its 5th anniversary. The event will take place tomorrow, 1 December, at the Lithuanian permanent representation in Brussels. RSVP here.

ONLINE: Also tomorrow, the Polish Academy of Sciences is organising a meeting of science managers representing its 68 research institutes. The meeting will tackle the administrative changes introduced recently in Horizon Europe, such as daily rates, lump sums and other issues related to the financial management of EU-funded research projects. More details here.

PRAGUE: The BIOEAST initiative is to host a conference on the Danube Lighthouse project on 7 December. The project aims to contribute to the EU’s research mission on restoring oceans and waters by 2030. More details here.   


The Widening: First assessment of the EU’s new east-west S&T initiatives

01 Mar 2023   |   Location TBC

Sustainable horizons: Does our future depend on science?

07 Feb 2023   |   Brussels

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