By Mark McCarthy

The EU’s forward strategy Europe 2020 has put emphasis on research and innovation as a driver of competitiveness and economic development. The Directorate General for Research and Innovation’s new 7-year Horizon 2020 programme has a budget increase to €80bn, compared with €50bn for the past seven years. Horizon 2020 includes support for local research teams through the European Research Council, for cross-Europe collaborative research on Grand Challenges (including Health and Wellbeing), and also funding to support private industry, particularly in technical fields including pharmaceuticals, aeronautics, bio-technology, energy, electronics and rail transport.

Horizon 2020 is a relatively rigid programme, with most of the DG’s work being in setting, evaluating and monitoring the many hundreds of specific calls rather than formulation of research priorities based on needs or gaps in evidence for policy. The Commissioner has relatively limited powers for initiative, as the research agendas at EU level are overseen by technical advisory committees formed from the national representations in Brussels and national research councils as well as individual researchers.

Mission letter: Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation

In the previous Seventh Framework Research programme the calls for ‘Health’ research were predominantly biomedical and clinical, with public health research gaining as little as 5% of the funds in the previous – although not much less than for DG SANCO’s health programme. Research on the ‘wider’ determinants of health is managed by other committees including food, energy, transport and economy, rarely giving opportunity for public health research themes, and the limited funds for social science and humanities research are also rarely directed to ‘applied’ themes.

Mr Moedas brings no prior experience in managing a research portfolio. In his statement to the European Parliament he gave answers solidly conforming with existing EU policies and programmes. While there are increasing calls for better evidence for policy-making and practice, European and national research priorities are increasingly directed towards commercial sectors in support of ‘economic growth’. This is a challenge for public health, where research results are not demonstrated as patents, machines and spin-off companies. European public health advocates need to work more closely with the research community, and national research councils, to strengthen social research on health policy, implementation and practice.

Last modified on November 5 2014.