Skip to content

How does the EU fund research?

The EU has a total estimated budget of €120bn to directly support research and innovation activities between 2014 and 2020

The EU supports research, development and innovation through several interlinked programmes. These are estimated to provide €120 billion5 to directly support research, development and innovation activities over the period 2014 – 2020.

In addition the EU provides indirect support for research, development and  innovation through specific programmes.

Figure 2
Estimated EU expenditure on research, development and innovation. 2014-2020.

Figure 2

Additional programmes indirectly supporting research and innovation activities:

  • Competitiveness for Enterprises & Small & Medium Size Enterprises (COSME)
  • Erasmus+
  • The Health programme
  • The Life programme
  • The Connecting Europe Facility
  • European Fund for Strategic Investment

Framework Programmes

What are Framework Programmes?

Framework Programmes (FPs) are the main EU funding mechanism for research, development and innovation. The current Framework Programme is  called Horizon 2020.

Who manages them?

Horizon 2020 is managed by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD). Eight other DGs with a  research dimension (Energy, Communication, Agriculture, Education and Culture, Growth, Home Affairs and the Joint Research Centre (JRC)) share ownership and responsibility for the Programme with DG Research.

What is the budget?

Horizon 2020 has a budget of €74.8 billion for the period 2014 – 2020. The budget and remit of Framework Programmes has increased since their inception in 1984 (see Who decides the EU's priorities for its research funding?).

Who can receive funding?

Universities, research organisations, small and large businesses, charities and individual researchers from EU Member States are eligible for Framework Programme funding. Non-EU countries also participate in Framework Programmes.

What do Framework Programmes fund?

Framework Programmes fund a variety of different research, development and innovation activities across the private and public sectors, spanning from fundamental research to technological development. These funded activities aim to broaden understanding of the world, harness scientific progress for economic and technological development, and solve some of the ‘grand challenges’ Europe faces.

“Up to December 2014, almost half of the scientific publications resulting from completed Framework Programme 7 projects were in high impact peer reviewed journals.”

How is funding distributed?

Horizon 2020 funding is mostly allocated competitively through calls for proposals to which researchers and organisations can apply.  Criteria for allocating funding vary and include scientific excellence, alignment with a number of strategic objectives (grand challenges), geographical and disciplinary diversity and potential for commercialisation. The calls for proposals are managed under a number of schemes and agencies, including the European Research Council (ERC), Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCAs), the Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) instrument, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), the European Investment Bank and partnerships with Member States and industries.

What has Framework Programme funding achieved?

Looking at the most recent Framework Programme, (FP7 running 2007 – 2013), 48% of projects were completed by December 2014 and had produced over 43,000 publications, 47% of which were published in high impact peer reviewed journals (defined as the top 10% of the SJR index of all journals within a given scientific category). These projects also reported more than 1,500 patent applications.  

The European Research Council (ERC)

Show further information

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCAs)

Show further information

The SME Instrument

Show further information

Sectoral research and innovation programmes

What are the EU sectoral research and innovation programmes?

Sectoral programmes fund research and innovation activities in specific sectors:

  • Nuclear energy: Euratom Research and Training Programme (ERTP) and International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)
  • Space: Copernicus and Galileo satellites programmes, complementing space research under Horizon 2020
  • Coal and steel production 

What is the budget?

The total research budget for these programmes is about €5 billion over the period 2014 – 2020, of which the majority (€4.5 billion) is for research into nuclear energy. These numbers are not exact because these programmes do not all run within the same timeframe.

Structural funds 

What are the structural funds? 

European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are a set of funds targeted especially (though not exclusively) at building capacity in  the least economically developed regions of the EU. In the UK, these include Cornwall, parts of Wales and the Scottish Highlands. 

Although a large proportion of these funds are spent on projects such as building infrastructure, support for research and innovation activities is also one of their priorities. Structural funds and Framework Programmes have different objectives and awarding criteria, and support different activities, but funding from the two programmes is increasingly coordinated and synergies are encouraged.

What is the budget? 

An estimated €40.2 billion of structural funds will be allocated to research and innovation activities over the period 2014 – 2020.

What activities are funded?

Research and innovation activities funded by the European Structural and Investment Funds include the construction of research infrastructure, support for technology transfer and research intensive businesses, and skills programmes.

Programmes connected to research and innovation activities

Five other EU programmes indirectly support research, development and innovation activities, although they do not fund these directly:

  • COSME (supports Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), including to develop Research & Development capabilities).
  • Erasmus+ (student mobility).
  • The Health Programme (supports healthcare frameworks including research hospitals).
  • The Life Programme (supports policy uptake of environmental research).
  • The Connecting Europe Facility (includes €1.14 billion for trans-European telecoms infrastructures).

European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI)

What is EFSI?

The European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI, also known as the ‘Junker Plan’) is one pillar of the European Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe. It aims to mobilise investment to stimulate jobs and growth in Europe across a range of infrastructure and innovation projects.

What is the budget?

EFSI has a seed fund of €16 billion of EU public funds that are intended to leverage external investment of €315 billion. €2.2 billion have been redeployed from Horizon 2020 to form part of the seed money.

What does EFSI fund?

The Commission has guaranteed that research and innovation projects will be among the activities for which EFSI will leverage investment.  However, precise details are yet to be determined.