Regional Dimension in ERA
In the year 2000, the European Commission published the Communication "Towards a European Research Area" and started a broad discussion with the aim of creating a "single European market" for research. The main objectives of this political initiative were to boost Europe's competitiveness, to improve the coordination of research activities on national and European level, to develop human resources, and to increase the attractiveness of European research to the best researchers from all over the world. The regions have an important role to play in implementing this process. The Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration – currently Horizon 2020 , with the next Framework Programme upcoming - is seen as the most important instrument for the implementation of the European Research Area, supported by other ERA instruments. The Structural Funds in their current funding period also have a strong focus on “Strengthening R&D and Innovation”, based on the principle of “Smart Specialisation Strategies”.
The ERA instruments, including Horizon 2020, have different – but complementary - targets from the Structural Funds, and therefore also different impacts on the regions. While the Structural Funds focus on reducing economic, social and territorial inequalities, RTI policy concentrates on building research and innovation capacities within the regions. Whereas the Structural Funds contribute to providing a “stairway to excellence” for the regions, funding under the ERA instruments, and in particular under Horizon 2020, is based on the principle of excellence, without considering the geographic origin of participants. The complementarity of these two sets of instruments is also expressed in their potential synergies. The envisaged possibility for co-funding, i.e. the fact that an action for which a grant from the Union budget has been awarded may also give rise to the award of a grant on the basis of the EU Regulation covering Horizon 2020, provided that the grants do not cover the same cost items, means that in particular R&D infrastructures and equipment for Horizon 2020 R&D projects can be funded from the Structural Funds.
In order to improve the synergies between the Research Framework Programme and the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), the European Commission started a new initiative in 2015: The so-called "Seal of Excellence" is a quality label for projects submitted to calls under Horizon 2020 which received an excellent evaluation but could not be funded under Horizon 2020 for budgetary reasons. It recognises the value of the proposal and supports the search for alternative funding.It is intended to facilitate access to ESIF funds, but also to funds from other sources. The Seal of Excellence is currently awarded to above-quality threshold, unfunded proposals who applied to the SME Instrument, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowships or Teaming under the Horizon 2020 programme.