European Innovation Policy

Innovations are the prerequisites for social progress and economic development. For Europe, they are also the key in the fight against today's climate, health and foreign and domestic policy challenges.

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Adobe Stock / sdecoret 

The European Union continually establishes the basis upon with Member States agree upon innovations regarding shared policy areas and conditions and to implement them. The common goal is to build a knowledge- and innovation-based society in addition to a competitive and resilient economy, while at the same time contributing to sustainable development also extending beyond Europe.

The objectives and implementation of these joint innovation activities by the EU and its member states are based on different frameworks for action and programmes that are purposefully and complementarily intertwined.

European Commission Work Programme

Every year, the European Commission adopts a new work programme in which it sets its strategic initiatives for the year in question. It usually identifies various overarching objectives and derives measures to achieve them. Joint legislative priorities are drawn up in discussions with the European Parliament and the Council. Innovative developments have become increasingly relevant in recent years. For example, the Commission's recent focus has included the "European Green Deal", "A Europe for the Digital Age", and "A Sovereign Economy Serving People". The European Commission's annual work programmes consequently also form the basis for European innovation funding.

Digital Europe

Digitalisation is one of the prerequisites for Europe's economic and social competitiveness. In order to encourage the development of digitalisation, the European Union (EU) funding programme "Digital Europe" supports companies, public and civil institutions with the introduction and expansion of key digital technologies.

The programme is running during the period between 2021 to 2027 and is therefore covers the duration of the EU's multi-year financial framework.

It focuses on five specific objectives:

  • High Performance Computing
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cybersecurity
  • Advanced digital skills
  • Ensuring a wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society

The programme involves co-financing by Member States and, where necessary, the private sector. Grants through the programme can cover up to 100 percent of eligible costs in certain cases.

"Digital Europe" complements other programmes supporting the digital transformation, such as the framework programme for research and innovation Horizon Europe as well as the digital aspects of the Connecting Europe Facility.

The European Green Deal

The European Commission has identified the European Green Deal as one of six overarching objectives in its last three work programmes (2020, 2021, 2022) and is based on the European Union's overarching strategy to enable a successful and equitable transition to a sustainable future for all. In the European Commission's 2022 Work Programme, the "European Green Deal" goal has been broken down into five policy objectives:

  • Zero pollution package
  • Climate measures package
  • Circular economy
  • Plastics package
  • Biodiversity and Farm to fork

Achieving these goals and creating a green and digital transition will require very particular innovations. In order to promote these innovations, the Commission and the Member States will cooperate much more closely within the framework of the European Research Area in future and the EU's Horizon Europe framework programme will also support the Green Deal with funding opportunities for innovative ideas.

Germany is a strong advocate of the Green Deal at the European level. Under the German Council Presidency in the second half of 2020, for example, an agenda process on green hydrogen was launched with the aim of drafting a joint Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) with the participation of industry, research, politics and civil society. Germany has taken on the coordination of this agenda process and, in addition, is also funding an accompanying research project on the Green Hydrogen Agenda via the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Horizon Europe

The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe, is the basis for the European funding of innovative ideas. It is the largest and financially most robust research and innovation funding programme worldwide. Like Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe combines research funding with innovation funding.

Though there is no lack of excellent research results in Europe, the exploitation, defined as the transfer of research results into marketable products or successful social innovations, is more challenging. By bundling research and innovation in one programme and adopting a broader funding approach extending from basic research to market launch, a predetermined breaking point can be avoided. Horizon Europe is divided into three pillars. Especially the third pillar, "Innovative Europe", promotes innovation and the European innovation ecosystem with its programmes - the European Innovation Council, the European Innovation Ecosystem and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

You can find more information on funding in these areas at the National Contact Points (NCPs) for the European Innovation Council (NCP EIC) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (NCP EIT).

Cohesion policy

Cohesion policy is the European Union's strategy to strengthen economic, social and territorial solidarity within the Union and to increase growth and employment. In order to achieve this, the EU has set itself five growth -promoting and political goals based upon innovation:

  • a more competitive and smarter Europe
  • greener, low‑carbon Europe transitioning towards a net zero carbon economy
  • a better networked Europe through improved mobility
  • a more social and inclusive Europe
  • a Europe that is closer to citizens through the fostering of sustainable and integrated development of all regions

These objectives should be achieved by utilising the instruments provided by the European Regional Development Fund (EFDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund.

Cooperation with Third and Associated States

Innovative cooperation projects should not stop at national borders. For this reason, the EU does not restrict its innovation funding to Member States, but also cooperates with other countries in a variety of ways. A particular focus is on the association of countries to the EU framework programme Horizon Europe. Companies and organizations of associated countries are funded together with their European cooperation partners. A list of countries associated to Horizon Europe is available in the Horizon Europe Programme Guide.

In addition to the association of countries as the closest form of cooperation, the EU has negotiated bilateral agreements on science and technology with 20 additional countries. Furthermore, the EU is pursuing regional dialogues with various regions such as Africa, Southeast Asia and the Western Balkans.