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The European Commission, every seven years, launches a series of innovative programmes with the aim of helping European countries to increase their economic, financial and technological competitiveness.

The current biggest EU Research and Innovation programme is Horizon 2020, which covers a 7-years period (2014 to 2020).


Horizon 2020, as stated before, is a financial instrument aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness in research and innovation.

The European Commission defines it as “a means to drive economic growth and create jobs, Horizon 2020 has the political backing of Europe’s leaders and the Members of the European Parliament. They agreed that research is an investment in our future and so put it at the heart of the EU’s blueprint for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs”.

By coupling research and innovation, Horizon 2020 is helping to achieve this ambitious aim with its emphasis on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. The goal is to ensure Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation.


This funding scheme is addressed to highly innovative SMEs with the ambition to develop their growth potential in a European and global market. It offers lump sums for feasibility studies, grants for disruptive business projects (demonstration, prototyping, testing, scaling up, launch to the market…); lastly, the commercialisation phase is supported indirectly through facilitated access to debt and equity financial instruments.

Only SMEs can participate to the SME Instrument.


Every call for proposal has a specific path to be followed in order to submit the application and try to be funded by the European Commission:

  • Creation of the consortium: many calls require a team of at least three partners, but it depends on the single call for proposal;
  • Submission of the proposal: the whole application process is online, thus all the documents have to be prepared in electronic form and sent through internet. The European Commission prepared a guide to help during this process;
  • Evaluation process: after the submission of the proposal, all the presented projects are evaluated by a panel of independent specialists in their fields. The panel checks each proposal and assigns a score following a set of specific criteria;
  • Grant agreement: once a proposal passes the evaluation stage, applicants are informed about the result. The European Commission then draws up a grant agreement to be signed by the applicant. The grant agreement confirms which kind of research & innovation activities will be undertaken, the project duration, budget, rates and costs, the contribution of the European Commission, all the rights and obligations of the applicant and the Commission, etc.


The entire programme is constantly monitored and evaluated by the European Commission, which prepares an official document, containing all the main results, twice during the whole duration. The first mid-term evaluation paper has been published in 2017 referring to the 2014-2016 period. The second and last one will be published at the end of 2020 before the launch of the new programme Horizon Europe.

The Commission follows specific criteria in analysing the success of a programme:

  • Relevance: whether the original objectives of Horizon 2020 are still relevant and how well they still match the current needs and problems;
  • Efficiency: the relationship between the resources used by Horizon 2020 and the changes it is generating;
  • Effectiveness: how successful Horizon 2020 has been in achieving or progressing towards its objectives;
  • Coherence: how well the different activities work together, internally and with other EU programmes and policies;
  • EU added value: assessing the value resulting from Horizon 2020 in addition to what could be generated by activities implemented at regional or national levels.

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