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FAO and EU Partnership

Towards a new horizon?

Interview with Bart van Ommen, responsible for FAO’s relations with the European Union


Ahead of an important event, Horizon 2020 being held on Friday 20 December at Headquarters but relevant to work across the Organization, we spoke to Bart Van Ommen, who is  responsible for FAO’s relations with major resource partner, the European Union.

What is Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s main funding instrument for research and innovation, with a budget of Euro 70 billion over the next seven years, starting on 1 January 2014. It will finance consortia of academic and/or research institutions in and outside Europe, with a view to contributing to sustainable growth and jobs but also to help tackling the grand challenges facing  the world, such as climate change and food security.

Does this mean its only for Europe then?

No, Europe is not an island and it’s challenges and opportunities are obviously closely interlinked with those of the rest of the world.

Under Horizon 2020, international cooperation has become even more important with special focus on three categories of countries, in particular where FAO is concerned cooperation with developing countries (Category III where these countries will have full access to this funding instrument).

Why would FAO want to be involved?

The European Union is one of the world’s leading regions in research and innovation. With only 7% of the world’s population, it accounts for 24% of the world’s expenditure on research, 32% of the highest impact publications and 32% of patent applications. Since 5% (or Euro 3.5 billion) of the Horizon 2020 budget is spent on research and innovation in agriculture and food security and 4% (or Euro 2.8 billion) on climate action, it is obviously of strategic importance for FAO to get involved in this.

What could be FAO’s role in Horizon 2020 projects?

Apart from being an important data and knowledge provider, FAO can typically assist in the dissemination of the results of European-funded research and their translation into actions and policies, especially in third countries outside the European Union.

There is also an important role for FAO to play in linking research actions between European institutions with counterparts in the South. Last week, for example, FAO hosted the kick-off meeting of the so-called LinkTADs project - linking research on trans-boundary animal diseases by some renowned institutions in Europe with work on the same subject being done by various institutions that are part of the Chinese Academy for Agricultural Sciences. In the LinkTADs project, FAO is the consortium leader, but normally FAO is one of the partners in the consortium.

What is better for FAO, to be a partner or to be a leader in the consortium?

While being a partner definitively implies much less work, assuming leadership brings important advantages, such as the possibility to conceive and develop project proposals at the heart of our strategic framework and to select the other members of the consortium.

Moreover, the implementation arrangement that we have applied to the LinkTADs project allows us to concentrate on the technical, scientific aspects of our leading role, while we have brought a specialized Hungarian firm on board in the consortium to assist in management tasks, which are therefore much lighter for us now. This model could eventually be replicated as we will now consider our corporate response to the open call for proposals for the first 2-year work program of Horizon 2020, which comprises a very wide range of topics that are relevant to the achievement of FAO’s strategic objectives at global, regional and/or national levels.

What can colleagues do to explore Horizon 2020 funding opportunities for strategic initiatives they are involved in?

I know that some colleagues are already involved in discussions with potential partners to build consortia for the preparation of project proposals, but I would encourage all colleagues to carefully review the very large Horizon 2020 call for proposals that was issued, just last week.

Is there a particular procedure to be followed?

In principle, the procedure for Horizon 2020 projects is fully harmonized with the new FAO project cycle. This means not only that the usual in-house clearance process applies, but also that Horizon 2020 projects should be identified, developed and implemented within the frameworks of FAO’s high-level work plans and Regional Initiatives. Isolated, non-strategic initiatives will certainly be discouraged. Moreover, since the consortia behind these type of projects typically include small and medium-sized enterprises (normally 20% of members should fall into this category), a careful assessment of these private sector partners is required in collaboration with OPC. As mentioned before, this could be among the reasons why FAO might opt to be the consortium leader, because in that capacity the Organization obviously has a much bigger say in the composition of the consortium than if it is only a partner.

What can TCSR do for them?

The EU team in TCSR (Operations and Resource Mobilization Service) stands ready to assist at all stages of the project cycle and especially with the formulation, negotiation and reporting, which should all be done on-line through the Horizon 2020 Participants Portal. The idea is that TCSR will assist with the templates and rules, both FAO and EU rules, so that technical colleagues can concentrate on the substantive, scientific aspects.

Moreover, together with the European Commission, TCSR has organized a special Information Event, which will take place on Friday, 20 December 2013 in the Sheikh Zayed Centre, from 14.30 to 17.00. There will be a representative from DG Research of the European Commission to present the open calls for proposals and there will be time for questions and answers. This event will be web-cast, so as to allow colleagues in the decentralized offices to benefit from it.