The capacity of private and public actors to take up and develop state-of-the-art technology
varies considerably among EU Member States. To tackle this innovation divide, the EU has
focused increasingly on ensuring wider participation in its research and innovation (R&I) funding
programmes, introducing specific measures to unlock the potential of low-innovation countries
and promoting synergies with the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs). The
European Court of Auditors (ECA) is conducting an audit to assess the action taken by the
European Commission to achieve this Horizon 2020 ‘widening’ objective.
R&I is a key part of productivity and economic competitiveness. About two thirds of Europe’s
economic growth in recent decades has been driven by technological innovation, and one third of all
European jobs are now in knowledge-based industries. One of the EU’s political aims is for R&I
activities to be spread evenly across its Member States.
Horizon 2020 is the EU’s eighth framework programme for R&I. It works by co-financing cutting-edge
R&I collaborative projects in Member States and partner countries, and is the main funding
instrument for the Europe 2020 Strategy and the objectives of the European Research Area (ERA), an
initiative launched in 2000 which aims to create a single, borderless market for research, innovation
and technology across the EU. Starting in 2013, Horizon 2020 focused increasingly on spreading
excellence and ‘widening’ the participation of low-innovation countries by providing them with
additional support for policy design, building capacity and creating links between leading research
institutions and low-performing regions. To finance these measures, the ESIFs, whose purpose is to
strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU, were used in addition to Horizon 2020 funding.
“There is a persistent divide among private and public actors in different Member States in terms
of their research performance and capacity to innovate. This divide between innovation leaders and
underperforming countries prevents the EU from fully exploiting its potential and threatens its economic growth, prosperity and social stability,” said Ivana Maletić, the ECA member responsible for the audit. “This audit aims to assess whether the Commission’s actions – for instance under Horizon 2020 and through promoting synergies with the ESIFs – have helped to reduce the R&I divide in the EU.”