EU Auditors: simplify research funding further

EU Auditors: simplify research funding further
In contrast with earlier research programmes, practitioners appreciate Horizon 2020 as the best EU programme for research and innovation so far, and commend the considerable efforts at simplification have been made.

There is still a need to simplify EU research funding after 2020, according to a new Briefing Paper from the European Court of Auditors, prepared for the European Parliament and the European Council.

The paper was prepared as a contribution to discussions on the successor to Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme, with a focus on simplifying research funding.

The auditors have previously pointed out that a complex legal framework could affect the efficient implementation of research programmes. For Horizon 2020, they distinguish two ways of removing unnecessary complexity:

  • Rewriting the basic legal rules; and
  • Creating a simpler interface adapted to researchers’ real-life circumstances.

However, according to the auditors, simplification itself is complicated. That is, they describe some of the issues affecting the European Commissions efforts and link these to the design of the regulatory framework for research, the funding model, and the participation scheme.

Alex Brenninkmeijer, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the Briefing Paper, said: “Horizon 2020 is complex due to its range of regulations, rules, guidelines, procedures and processes for implementation, and the multitude of its funding instruments and unnecessary complexity brings risk.”

Rules and regulations

Different organisations and individuals at EU and national level may also interpret the rules differently, and some researchers are concerned about a lack of legal certainty.

In contrast with earlier research programmes, practitioners appreciate Horizon 2020 as the best EU programme for research and innovation so far, and commend the considerable efforts at simplification have been made.

However, basic regulations remain difficult to understand – particularly for SMEs – and the application of simpler funding options continue to be problematic for recipients, and their control remains difficult for auditors.

The briefing paper highlights several areas for attention around the current discussion on research spending, including:

  • Providing a reasonable duration between the adoption and implementation of legal acts;
  • Assessing the use of simplified cost options, such as lump sums and prizes;
  • Explaining the use of guidelines as non-binding rules;
  • Accepting beneficiaries’ accounting practices; and
  • Recognising good project proposals under Horizon 2020 in other programmes.
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