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Bridging the R&I Divide: the imperative of the Widening Programme

widening programme
Ana Luisa Matias​

Ana Luisa Matias

Consultant in European projects

As Europe emerges from the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spotlight turns to a critical component of its recovery strategy: the Widening Programme. This initiative, integral to the European Research Area (ERA) Policy Agenda, represents more than just a funding mechanism; it’s a transformative force aimed at harmonizing research and innovation (R&I) capabilities across the continent. The Widening Programme is set to play a pivotal role in ensuring that all European regions, regardless of their historical R&I performance, can contribute to and benefit from the Union’s ambitious goals of a green and digital future.

In the European Union, a mosaic of diverse nations, the unity often overshadows underlying disparities, especially evident in the realm of research and innovation (R&I). The concept of “Widening countries” — those EU member states and associated countries with lower R&I performance — is a reality shaped by a multitude of historical, socio-economic, and infrastructural factors that have long been influencing the European R&I ecosystem.

This article explores how the Widening Programme is redefining the R&I landscape in Europe, fostering a more balanced, resilient, and interconnected community in the face of 21st-century challenges.

The core of Widening Programme

In this landscape, the role of the Widening Programme transcends mere funding. It is about redressing these imbalances and fostering a unified European Research Area (ERA). The Programme’s focus on enhancing R&I infrastructure in these countries is not just about building physical capacity but also about nurturing an environment conducive to high-quality research.

The Widening Programme primarily targets EU member states with lower research and innovation (R&I) performance. These ‘widening countries’ typically include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. These nations often face unique challenges in boosting their R&I capabilities, and the programme aims to provide tailored support to help bridge these gaps.

Encouraging talent circulation is another critical facet. The Programme’s initiatives aimed at mobility of researchers and innovators seek to counteract the brain drain phenomenon, promoting a more equitable distribution of knowledge and expertise within Europe.

Stimulating collaboration and partnerships across European institutions is fundamental. Through this, the Programme helps integrate Widening countries into broader R&I networks, bridging the gap between different European regions.

Moreover, capacity building, particularly in administrative and managerial aspects of R&I, is a key component of the Programme. It aims to empower institutions and individuals in Widening countries with the skills necessary for successful R&I projects, thus bolstering the overall European R&I ecosystem.

New calls open

The ERA calls set to open on December 6th are a manifestation of the EU’s strategic vision for a robust and unified ERA that is innovative, inclusive, and responsive to societal needs. Each call is an invitation to the research community to contribute to a collective effort, ensuring that Europe remains at the forefront of global R&I while adhering to principles of inclusivity and excellence.

This call recognizes that collaboration at the policy level is the keystone of a successful, integrated ERA. By fostering dialogue and joint initiatives between national R&I policymakers, it seeks to harmonize strategies and leverage synergies, thus enhancing the overall coherence and impact of national R&I policies within the wider European context.

Research management is the backbone of successful R&I activities. With this call, the EU acknowledges the critical need to professionalize research management across the ERA. By ensuring that research managers are well-equipped, we can enhance the quality and competitiveness of European research.

Researchers are at the heart of innovation. This call aims to empower researchers with the skills and competencies required for the ever-evolving demands of the R&I landscape, leveraging the European Competence Framework to foster career development and mobility within the ERA.

The potential for value creation through R&I is immense. By encouraging experimentation and the exchange of good practices, this call promotes innovative approaches to R&I that drive societal and economic value, a cornerstone of sustainable growth in the ERA.

Intellectual Property (IP) management is essential in the open science paradigm. This call is dedicated to building capacities in IP management, ensuring that research outcomes are effectively protected and commercialized, enhancing their societal and economic impact.

As the open access movement gains momentum, this call supports global cooperation in not-for-profit publishing, enabling wide dissemination of research findings and fostering greater transparency and accessibility in scientific communication.

The credibility of science hinges on the reproducibility of research. This call focuses on developing policies and practices that enhance the reliability and trustworthiness of scientific outcomes, ensuring that European research remains a global standard-bearer for quality and integrity.

These calls highlight the EU’s commitment to gender equality in R&I. By supporting the development and implementation of inclusive gender equality plans, the ERA moves towards a more diverse and equitable research environment.

In an age where artificial intelligence transforms every facet of society, this call champions an ethical approach to the development of next-generation AI, ensuring that such technologies are aligned with human values and societal norms.

We can help you

The Widening Programme is not just a funding mechanism; it is a vital step towards levelling the R&I playing field in Europe. By addressing the root causes of R&I disparities, the Programme paves the way for sustainable, long-term development in these regions, laying the groundwork for a balanced, innovative, and resilient European R&I ecosystem.

If you are from an widening country seeking to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the European Union’s Widening Programme, at Zabala Innovation we can offer an invaluable strategic partnership.

Through the experts we have in the Knowledge Area of Third countries, we will guide you through the specific challenges of these calls, ensuring that your proposals are aligned with the strategic objectives of the European Union and optimize your chances of success.

Expert person

Ana Luisa Matias​
Ana Luisa Matias

Lisbon Office

Consultant in European projects