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Horizon 2020 proves that R&D investment is very cost-effective in the EU

horizon 2020 evaluation

Horizon 2020, the European Union’s flagship research and innovation programme covering the period 2014-2020 with a budget allocation of almost €80 billion, has left a lasting legacy, the final evaluation shows.

This programme, designed to stimulate economic growth, foster collaboration in research and innovation, and address societal challenges in Europe, has proven to be a highly cost-effective investment with significant impacts on the economy, research and society.

Making a difference for citizens

Horizon 2020 funded more than 35,000 projects over seven years, playing a crucial role in the fight against climate change. In fact, 64.4% of its budget went to sustainable development, making it the world’s second largest contributor to climate science after its predecessor, the Seventh Framework Programme.

But the programme not only boosted research, it also generated around 4,000 patents and trademarks, highlighting its role in supporting concrete solutions in key fields such as photonics, microelectronics and nanoelectronics.

As such, the European Innovation Council has praised its unprecedented support for potentially ground-breaking technological innovations and deep-tech companies.

Impact on employment and business growth

One of the most tangible indicators of Horizon 2020’s success is the positive impact on employment and business growth. The programme has driven a remarkable additional employment growth of 20% and contributed to a 30% increase in turnover and total assets for participating companies, compared to those that were unsuccessful despite submitting high quality applications.

In the long term, Horizon 2020 is estimated to contribute to an average annual increase in EU GDP of EUR 15.9 billion, totalling EUR 429 billion over the period 2014-2040.

This economic impact underlines the importance of investment in research and innovation for sustainable development and long-term prosperity.

Scientific contributions and global recognition

The programme supported 33 Nobel Prize winners, demonstrating its crucial role in boosting scientific excellence and global recognition.

In addition to its impact on research and scientific recognition, Horizon 2020 was also instrumental in diversifying and enhancing the skills and knowledge of researchers. Indeed, it has facilitated the mobility of some 50,000 researchers across sectors and countries, the programme has strengthened international collaborations and contributed significantly to scientific progress worldwide.

Experiences gained and lessons for the future

Despite the clear successes, the final evaluation of Horizon 2020 has also identified areas for improvement. These include the need for broader participation, further simplification and reduction of administrative burden, strengthening the dissemination, exploitation and use of results, better support for women’s participation and improved synergies with other initiatives at national, regional and EU level.

Attention to these areas for improvement will not only guide the current implementation of Horizon Europe, the programme’s successor, but will also influence policy development for future research and innovation initiatives. Effective integration of lessons learned will ensure the continued efficiency, relevance and impact of European research and innovation programmes for the benefit of European citizens.

Conclusions and legacy

Horizon 2020 has left a lasting legacy in the European Union, marking an era of significant advances in research and innovation. The final evaluation highlights the programme’s far-reaching role in building a society and economy rooted in knowledge and innovation. Its contributions to rapid response to outbreaks such as COVID-19, Ebola and Zika, as well as its leading role in climate science, demonstrate the relevance and versatility of the programme.

Investment in research and innovation remains essential to address global challenges and ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for the European Union and its citizens. Horizon 2020 has laid the foundations, and its legacy continues, driving scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration in the European Union and beyond.