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Focus on central and eastern Europe

Welcome to the third 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. Sign up here.

- By Florin Zubașcu | Executive Editor -

This week we’re looking at how the Czech Republic managed to become a hub for research infrastructures in central Europe. Also, a political spat between Brussels and Warsaw could jeopardise funding for Poland’s research and innovation system.  Last but not least, research stakeholders discuss what the EU should do next with its Widening programme in Horizon Europe.

CZECH SUCCESS: The small central European country became a thriving ecosystem for research infrastructures, thanks to EU structural funds. Now, it is reaping the benefits.

Today, the Czech Republic is home to several leading infrastructures and is an important voice for science facilities in Europe. However, it is still struggling to ensure it has the talent to run and make use of its top-notch research laboratories.

Goda Naujokaityte went to Brno last week to uncover the success story, as the country was hosting the world’s largest conference on research infrastructures. Read the story here.

WEATHERING THE STORM: Academics in Poland are starting to question how the dispute with the EU over access to €35.4 billion from the pandemic recovery will impact research, investment in innovation, and industry/academic collaborations at national and international levels.

Some research stakeholders went as far as to say that if the funds do not materialise it would be “an atomic bomb” for science, and less established institutes would suffer the most because they can’t weather the storm without financial support. Anna Rzhevkina has the story 

THE FUTURE OF THE WIDENING PROGRAMME: EU member states have recently agreed on a common response to a report by the European Court of Auditors on the Widening programme in Horizon Europe.

The programme was set up under Horizon 2020 to help EU-13 member states boost their participation in EU research competitions. It then got a significant budget boost under Horizon Europe. But the auditors say member states should complement it with more investment at the national level. Now, stakeholders wonder what the EU should do next with the €3 billion programme. Here’s the story 

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

ROMANIA: Some of the country’s top universities are decrying plans to scrap the rule that prevents academics from holding the position of rector for more than eight years. Universities opposing the change say rectors should be limited to two four-year mandates, consecutive or not.

“How good a leader can a rector be if he tells colleagues that no one can replace him and keeps unlimited powers in his own hands,” said Marian Preda, rector of the University of Bucharest.

Romania’s university sector is going through a reputational crisis, after journalist Emilia Șercan uncovered a string of high-level plagiarism cases. The latest to be exposed by Șercan is Sorin Cîmpeanu, who had to resign from his post as education minister this month, after he was found to have plagiarised parts of a university coursebook.

Three days before his resignation, no less than 54 rectors signed a letter defending Cîmpeanu against accusations of plagiarism. The rectors of the University of Bucharest, Babeș-Bolyai University, the National School of Political Sciences and Public Administration, and the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca were among the very few rectors in the country who did not sign the letter. The Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu later released a statement asking the government to stick to the two mandates rule.

Cîmpeanu is currently executing a third mandate as rector of the University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Bucharest.

R&D TAX CREDIT: The government in Bucharest has updated its tax credit rules to encourage the private sector to invest more in research and development. According to research minister Sebastian Burduja, the new rules will make it easier for companies to make use of a 50% tax deduction for R&D activities.

As of 1 January 2023, Romania will have a national register for R&D experts who can certify what constitutes research and development activities in the private sector. Previously, the 50% tax deduction was applied unevenly due to confusion over what kind of activities can qualify as R&D. “Even though the tax code foresees benefits for private investments in R&D, companies were hesitating in accessing them,” Burduja said.

HUNGARY TO BOOST R&D INVESTMENT: Zoltán Birkner, president of Hungary’s national research and innovation agency NKFIH said the country is on track to reach the EU’s 3% spending target for R&D by the end of the decade.

The European Commission wants public and private R&D expenditure in member states to be at least 3% of their GDP. This target has been renewed recently as part of the Commission’s revamped plan for a European single market for research, the European Research Area.

Speaking at a conference at the Eötvös Loránd University, Birkner said government subsidies for innovation are expected to exceed €241 million per year, while national research laboratories are set to receive over €290 million in national and EU funding until 2026.

NUCLEAR FUSION: Researchers at the ELKH Centre for Energy Research are testing components for ITER, the international nuclear fusion project. The Hungarian team has designed, built and put into operation an experimental system that uses hydrogen plasma to ensure a safe shutdown of the ITER fusion equipment.

CZECH PUSH FOR GENOME EDITING: International scientists gathering at the Czech Academy of Sciences earlier this month advocated for the use of novel gene editing in agriculture. In a two-day conference, academics and policy makers debated whether the EU should legalise new breeding methods, and the scientific consensus seems to be that these technologies are safe and would help the bloc secure its food supply.

“Genome editing constitutes a safe method and represents our hope for securing enough food for humankind in the future,” said biochemist Eva Zažímalová, the president of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU and has put gene editing on its political agenda in Brussels.

Last month, Zdeněk Nekula, Czech minister for agriculture chaired a Council meeting where EU ministers agreed the use of new precision techniques could strengthen the EU’s food sector and increase its resilience in the face of climate and geopolitical crises.

NEW UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIP: Charles University has teamed up with the Czech ministry of foreign affairs and the European Commission to create the Eastern Partnership University Cluster to boost international cooperation in education, science and research.

So far, twelve universities have signed a memorandum of cooperation: Charles University, the University of Milan, the University of Warsaw, the University of Cologne and the Hungarian Eötvös Loránd University, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Uzhhorod National University, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Oles Honchar National University of Dnipro, Ivan Javakhishvili State University of Tbilisi and Moldova State University in Chișinău.

EVALUATORS WANTED: The Czech Science Foundation (GACR) is looking to complete its team of 400 experts spread across five discipline committees. Applicants can submit their candidacies by 15 December.

POLAND: The Academy of Sciences has appointed a new president. Biologist Marek Konarzewski will lead the academy over the next four years, and he vowed to help scientists make their voices heard in public debates. He replaces biochemist Jerzy Duszyński, who has led the academy since 2015.  

Mark your calendars

WEBINAR: Research and innovation agencies in five Widening countries are organising a webinar on 7 November to learn how to make the most of public-private partnerships in Horizon Europe. More information here.

PRAGUE: The first Science|Business Widening conference will take place in Prague on 10 November. Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and other high-level speakers will discuss how Europe can tackle the challenges of brain drain and capacity building in EU-13 countries. Register here.

BUDAPEST: Erasmus+ national agencies in Austria, Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia are organising an infoday event in Budapest on 10-11 November. Registration is open until 7 November.

LJUBLJANA: The University of Ljubljana will host EUTOPIA Week, a conference of the European university alliance bearing the same name. The event will take place between 21 and 25 November.


Words or action: Can the EU’s new “widening and strengthening” agenda make a difference?

09 Nov 2022   |   Prague

Talent retention: How can Europe tackle the challenges of brain drain and capacity building in EU13 countries?

10 Nov 2022   |   Prague

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