National Contact Point Widening Participation and Spreading Excellence (NCP Widening)

Research and innovation potential is very unevenly distributed across Europe. The excellence and participation of widening countries in research and innovation will be strengthened and expanded in order to improve this situation.

A woman wearing a laboratory coat is writing on a laptop next to which some glass beakers with blue liquids are standing on a table. In the background, there is a man wearing a laboratory coat with a microscope.


Objectives of the Programme Part "Widening Participation and Dissemination of Excellence" in Horizon Europe

  • To close the research and innovation gap among Member States and regions in Europe;

  • To harness the potential for excellence in research and innovation that exists across the Union;

  • To increase participation in Horizon Europe (compared to Horizon 2020) in the Member States;

  • To contribute to the establishment of the European Research Area with fair access for all stakeholders in Europe.

Aligning Relevant Measures

The focus of the measures is upon member states and regions with weaker research and innovation structures. By requiring partnership building with excellent research and innovation institutions, mutual benefits play an important role, leading to real added value at the European level. The focus of the calls for Teaming, Twinning, for Excellence Hubs and ERA Chairs are the "Low R&I Performing Countries"; in other words the so-called "Widening Countries".

This image shows the countries‘ participation status in a map of Europe. A list of the countries and their status is provided in text form in the info box below.

Horizon Europe Widening - participation status

 Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Short definition: What are widening countries?

Widening countries - described in the work programme are: Bulgaria, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Cyprus (so-called EU-13), as well as Greece and Portugal and all Associated Countries with equivalent characteristics in terms of research and innovation performance and the Outermost Regions (defined in Article 349 TFEU).

The Specific Measures in Destinations 1 and 2

Specific measures aim to reduce the considerable differences in research and innovation performance within Europe by unlocking excellence and innovation potential. These measures should both interact with and compliment the strategies and measures in the Structural Funds while remaining distinct from these. These measures are divided into two destinations.

Destination 1 "Improved Access to Excellence"

Teaming: Partnerships Between Excellent Research Institutions and Regions with Weak Research, Development and Innovation Capabilities

The aim of "Teaming" is to create new (or comprehensively upgrade existing) centres of excellence in Member States and regions that have weaker research and innovation sectors. Teaming focuses on the preparation of establishing or upgrading relevant facilities; a process that should be eased by teaming with at least one leading partner elsewhere in Europe. Accordingly, a Teaming project must involve at least two beneficiaries; the main applicant being an organisation from a Widening country as coordinating institution and at least one leading institution from another Member State or Associated Country as the advanced partner. A prerequisite is that the project has arranged for 100 percent complementary funding from national, regional or European funding schemes, for example (structural funds). New to the process in Horizon Europe is that the application procedure for Teaming is now a two-stage process, meaning that a short proposal is submitted in the first stage by the deadline specified in the work programme. Only applications that are highly marked will be invited to submit a full proposal in stage 2.

In the first stage, the conceptual approach to the centres of excellence will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • What is the content of the strategic vision to develop research and innovation?
  • How can research and innovation excellence be further developed in the specified area?
  • How will access to complementary funding from other sources be ensured when national, regional and/or European strategies or policy priorities are considered?
  • How will the autonomy of the proposed centre be ensured and the necessary human resources be secured?

Consortia invited to continue to the second stage must prepare an investment plan for the entire project, including a binding commitment with regards to the required supplementary funding. Teaming Projects have a duration of six years. The amount of funding will be between 8 and 15 million euro with equivalent complementary funding (for example from the European Regional Development Fund).

This image gives an example of a Teaming consortium. In this example, a Center of Excellence is established under the coordination of a Polish institution. Possible cooperation partners could come from the Widening countries Lithuania and Latvia, and from the eligible countries Germany and Sweden.

Example structure: Teaming

 Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Twinning: Partnerships Between Research Institutions

"Twinning" aims to enhance networking activities between research institutions in Widening countries and leading partners at EU level. Consortia must include at least one institution from a Widening country and at least two leading institutions from EU Member States or Associated Countries. Only institutions in Widening countries can coordinate the project in order to achieve the expected results. Furthermore, at least 50 percent of the budget for research activities must be allocated to the coordinating institution. Activities such as:  

  • staff exchanges,
  • expert visits,
  • short-term training on-site or online,
  • workshops,
  • participation in conferences,
  • organisation of joint activities (such as summer schools),
  • information dissemination
  • and general activities in the field of public relations

can be funded in order to make the collaboration a success. During the application process, a work package and plan must be prepared in which the scientific objectives as well as the partners’ tasks and roles are listed. Funding for Twinning Projects is provided for up to three years with a funding amount of 800,000 to 1.5 million euro per project.

This image gives an example of a Twinning consortium. In this example, a Twinning project is being set up under the coordination of a Polish institution. Possible cooperation partners could come from the eligible countries Germany and Sweden.

Example structure: Twinning

 Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Excellence Hub

The goal of Excellence Hubs is the initiation of sustainable and “place-based ecosystems” in Widening countries through concrete action plans and joint research and innovation strategies. Unlike Teaming projects, which only focus on single beneficiaries, Excellence Hubs have a multi-collaboration approach. Innovation ecosystems in a specific territorial context (for example at regional or local level) act together and benefit from geographically close connections among actors. These include cooperating companies, research institutions, government agencies and other social actors. Together, they embody the "quadruple helix principle" and increase the level of innovation excellence in their regional or national structures.

With this in mind, Excellence Hubs must emerge from at least two different "place-based ecosystems" from at least two different Widening countries. At the same time, partners outside Widening countries are eligible to participate if a specific transfer of knowledge is critical to building the Excellence Hub in the Widening countries can be obtained through this participation. In this way, a leading university or company outside Widening countries can participate provided that the minimum requirement of two complete ecosystems in Widening countries has been complied with. It should be noted that the majority of the funding (approximately 70 percent) should remain in the Widening countries. Excellence Hubs are funded with between 3 to 5 million euro per project.

Over the course of the project, a work plan consisting of five interrelated core components must be developed:

  • A cross-border research and innovation strategy that must be coordinated in the regional context on the basis of the "quadruple helix principle" with all involved partners that takes regional and European priorities (smart specialization, Green Deal) into consideration;
  • A joint research and innovation project as a support project within the project that aims within the joint strategy framework to actively involve business partners in the development of marketable solutions;
  • An action and investment plan, which aims to elaborate a diversified strategy and to prospectively acquire additional financial resources (for example, from cohesion funds, national funds, banks or companies);
  • A conceptual design as well as pre-planning for pilots and demonstrations that form the planning phase of subsequent pilot projects and need to be considered in the action and investment plan and
  • Accompanying measures that aim to raise awareness, civic engagement, technology transfer, entrepreneurial skills training, staff exchange and mutual learning with a view to creating a culture of innovation.
This image shows an example of an Excellence Hub consortium. In this example, a Place Based Ecosystem in Poland builds an Excellence Hub with a Place Based Ecosystem in Latvia-Poland.

Example structure: Excellence Hubs

 Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Hop On Facility

The Hop On Facility provides eligible applicants from Widening countries with the opportunity to participate in previously selected collaborative Research and Innovation Action (RIA) projects. As part of the conditions, the respective consortium must agree and the participating stakeholders from Widening countries must not previously have been part of a Hop On Facility. The Hop On Facility allows an additional participant from a Widening country to be integrated into an ongoing Horizon Europe project (Pillar 2 and additionally in EIC Pathfinder). In order to facility the Hop On Facility, a relevant work package for the new partner needs to be added to an existing project. Applications involving activities that contribute to the political goal of transitioning to a green and digital economy will be given special consideration. The increase to the project’s budget will exclusively benefit the new partner. Additionally, the consortium’s coordinating entity may also be allocated an additional coordination fee of up to 10 percent of the increased budget. Funding for Hop On Facility projects range between 200,000 and 500,000 euro.

Consortia with a project in Pillar 2 or EIC Pathfinder can look for Widening countries with appropriate expertise that wish to join an existing project on the Funding and Tenders Portal.  

Additonally, a Widening country can search on the Funding and Tenders Portal for an existing project within Pillar 2 and also EIC Pathfinder.

European Excellence Initiative (EEI): Capacity Building to Strengthen Higher Education Institution Networks and Cooperation with Surrounding Ecosystems

The aim of the European Excellence Initiative (EEI) is to better address major societal challenges through integrated and longer-term collaboration between partnered higher education institutions. These advances are expected to succeed with institutional transformation, with the modernisation of higher education institutions and through pilot projects or case studies. Collaborations must take place between at least two organisations within the higher education sector in one or more Widening countries by linking them with at least two leading international institutions from two different Member States or Associated Countries. The EEI Strategy should include arrangements for institutional change according to a common agenda as well as a set of planned activities eligible for funding (such as short-term staff exchanges or workshops). Projects can be funded for up to three years and receive 1.5 to 2 million euro.

Destination 2 "Attracting and Mobilising the Best Talents"- Promotional Measures Aimed at Increasing the Mobility of Highly Skilled Workers and Creating Attractive Career Opportunities

ERA Chairs

The establishment of ERA Chairs supports universities and research institutions from eligible countries to attract and retain highly skilled personnel under the leadership of an outstanding researcher (ERA Chair Holder). To achieve the desired results, participation as a coordinator is limited to institutions located in Widening countries. The coordinating institution must apply together with an outstanding researcher in a scientific field who will be the future ERA Chair Holder. The applicant must outline the composition, the level of compensation and the implementation timetable of the ERA Chair Research Team. Furthermore, team members must be appointed through an open, transparent and merit-based recruitment process with no more than 50 percent of team members having previously had a contractual relationship with the coordinating institution. Each ERA Chair will be funded with between 1.5 and 2.5 million euro for a foreseen funding period of up to five years.

ERA Fellowships

Under the ERA Fellowships programme, fellowships are awarded to excellent researchers who participate in cross-border mobility by going to a host organization in a Widening country. Researchers are expected to apply together with a host organisation from either the academic or non-academic sector. Fellowships are open to researchers of any nationality who wish to participate in research and innovation projects either by coming to Europe from any country in the world or by relocating from within Europe to a Widening country. Researchers must give their consent when applying for the (MSCA) Postdoctoral Fellowships in order to apply for an ERA Fellowship. Applications are then automatically resubmitted for the ERA Fellowship call if the host institution is located in a Widening country and the proposal does not rank high enough to receive funding in the MSCA call. The MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships model grant agreement will also be used for the ERA Fellowships. The total budget for the ERA Fellowships programme is 8 million euro and it is anticipated that this sum will finance approximately 50 projects.