The European Commission is preparing the launch of a new research funding programme for the period 2014-2020 with an €80 billion budget. In its framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020, the European Commission proposes to strengthen industrial leadership in innovation, by a major investment in key technologies and greater access to capital and support for small and medium enterprises. Furthermore, various ‘societal challenges’ have been identified, ‘major concerns shared by all Europeans’, such as climate change, developing sustainable transport and mobility, making renewable energy more affordable, ensuring food safety and security, or coping with the challenge of an ageing population. Although one might doubt whether it is wise to claim that these concerns are shared by all Europeans, the challenges are hard to dispute.
Right now, the budget for Horizon 2020 is being negotiated by the European Parliament and Council. What’s in it for legal researchers?
One of the objectives is ‘to foster inclusive, innovative and secure European societies in a context of unprecedented transformations and growing global interdependencies’. The Commission refers to social exclusion and poverty, inequalities and migration flows, ensuring security and freedom, trust in democratic institutions and between citizens within and across borders. Obviously, this objective requires a greater understanding of various legal frameworks in the private as well as in the public sphere. This includes various perspectives on the law, because legal innovations may be suitable in one context, but not in another.
Other legal research aspects of the societal challenges are mentioned all but explicitly in Horizon 2020. Of course one cannot develop European industrial capabilities by reading and interpreting the law and court decisions. But an ageing population demands secure pension schemes, designed for multi-party relationships – formed by employees, employers, their associations and insurance companies; these will ultimately rely on traditional legal concepts that are made fit for this new objective. Achieving sustainable use of natural resources might be stimulated by integrating the interests of future generations in classical liability issues. And attempts to ensure food security will be facilitated by an understanding of the interaction between legal systems: public/private and national/European.
Thus, in Horizon 2020 legal research should be regarded as an implied term in the Commission’s proposal. However, Parliament and Council would do well to make it more explicit. Not only would this reaffirm the fact that legal research is part and parcel of Horizon 2020, but it would also, and more importantly, reconfirm the importance that the EU institutions attach to a sound legal framework as a necessary precondition to societal change and development in the Union.