From H2020 to Horizon Europe – a closer look at the new Grant Agreement
6th April 2021 at 4:22 pm
When your proposal gets selected for funding within the EU Framework Programme, until last year Horizon 2020 and since this year Horizon Europe, you are invited to prepare the Grant Agreement (GA). This funding contract is settled between the European Commission (the funding agency) and the project consortium. It includes the general terms and conditions concerning the action/grant as well as the rights and obligations of the parties involved. The Grant Agreement and its signature by all parties is a prerequisite for the project to start.
In Horizon 2020, a General Model Grant Agreement (General MGA) was provided for Research and Innovation Actions (RIA), Innovation Actions (IA), and Coordination and Support Actions (CSA), while Specific Model Grant Agreements (Specific MGAs) were adopted for specific programmes, such as the ERC, MSCA and SME Instrument. In order to help users understand and interpret the Grant Agreement and provide answers to common issues and questions, the European Commission also offered the so-called Annotated Model Grant Agreement (AGA), which explains the details of the General MGA and the Specific MGAs. As it intends to be comprehensive, covering all possible options envisaged in the 58 articles of the different Grant Agreements, it has more than eight hundred pages and is continously updated with new examples and explanations. Although the purpose of this document is quite relevant and very useful, it highlights the high degree of complexity involved in the management of a European project. The first results from audits conducted on H2020 projects, show that many adjustments would probably be needed due to incorrect productive hours calculations, incorrect remuneration costs and lack of adequate supporting documents. Bureaucratic jargon and too many administrative duties are the enemies of the scientific and technological actors.
The new EU Research & Innovation Programme, Horizon Europe, is starting now and with all the excitement comes a question that everyone seeks an answer for: what is going to change compared with Horizon 2020? Is there still a Grant Agreement and if so, what does it look like? The immediate answer is YES, the GA remains compulsory and indispensable! The good news is that it was elaborated with a more user-friendly structure and readability. An online consultation was conducted by the European Commission and around 67% of the participants agreed that a single Model Grant Agreement would facilitate the synergies between all managed funding programmes.
Let’s have a look at the key changes brought by the Horizon Europe Model Grant Agreement:
- Consistency: there is only a single MGA, with around 120 pages and that uses a common corpus of rules. The articles were reduced from 58 to 44 and their format is more straightforward and easy to interpret; the use of the same terminology across programmes ensures a consistent interpretation of rules.
- To the point: a new Data Sheet summarises the project’s key information, covering not only general data such as a summary of the project, the start and end date, the acronym, and the participants list, but also includes its financial data, reporting and payments scheduling and consequences of non-compliance. To further ease the interpretation of the GA, a new article dedicated to definitions was added.
- Simplified financial provisions: personnel costs are based on a single calculation formula, using a common factor of 215 working days per year; Timesheets can now be replaced with monthly declarations (template under development); there is the possibility to accept actual indirect costs for internally invoiced goods and services (produced or provided within the beneficiary’s organisation directly for the action); only one Certificate on Financial Statement (CFS) is needed, at payment of the balance, if the beneficiary/linked third party requests a total financial contribution of at least EUR 430 000.
- Streamlined audit process: the Systems and Process Audit (SPA) aims to detect emerging risks of irregularity early on and relies on the internal control system of the beneficiaries; SPAs will be conducted on selected beneficiaries, with further consultation with beneficiaries, member states and with the Central Services of the Commission.
- Exploitation & Open Science: a communication and dissemination plan is now mandatory during the first 6 months of the project and there is no option for opting out of Research Data Management. Making use of R&I results through third party exploitation is highly encouraged. After the first year of the project, and if no exploitation takes place, beneficiaries must use the Horizon Results Platform to make their exploitable results visible. Moreover, the beneficiaries must ensure open access to peer-reviewed scientific publications at the latest at the time of publication and in terms of publication fees only those for full open access venues for peer-reviewed scientific publications are considered as eligible costs. Publications should be deposited in the newly launched open access publishing platform under the Creative Commons Attribution International Public Licence or a licence with equivalent rights.
- International cooperation: there is a wider openness for association with countries not geographically close to Europe with good capacity in science, technology and innovation, and there is the overall intention to access the world’s best talents, expertise and resources.
- EU values: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, including the rights of minorities is now a required commitment from all beneficiaries. The promotion of equal opportunities between men and women remains a priority.
Lessons learned from Horizon 2020 takes us to an Horizon Europe focused on encouraging participation by simplification and optimisation of all administrative burden. In the same way as in H2020, also for Horizon Europe projects the project start will be preceeded by the Grant Agreement preparation phase. Our team at accelopment has successfully guided dozens of collaborative projects through their grant preparations, from as early on as the FP7 and throughout H2020. We are glad to see the changes and improvements made in the new Horizon Europe MGA and are well prepared to support you in navigating through the Grant Agreement preparation phase of your, hopefully many, successful Horizon Europe grants.
Research & Innovation Project Associate