For the European Union (EU), India is a strategic partner and cooperation on research and innovation (R&I) is a strong component of this partnership, says the Counsellor of EU Delegation to India. In this article, she informs about the eligibility, funding required for research.

Cooperation on Research and Innovation (R&I) between India and the EU has a long history: already back in 2001, a bilateral agreement on science and technology between India and Europe was concluded, and since then several times renewed, the last time in 2016 for another five years.

EU and India exploring opportunities for research and innovation


This confirms the desire by both sides to continue and upscale the cooperation on R&I as established at the recent Steering Committee, which took place in Brussels on 6th June 2017.


Similarity in objectives

Most importantly, India and the EU have very similar objectives on the role of R&I, in particular, a focus on innovation, and on the need to strengthen the R&I capacity to address societal challenges on health, water, energy, digital agenda, climate change, food security or turn our cities into smart cities.


Europe and India are so to speak natural partners and have a lot to offer to each other. Europe is a world leader in research and innovation, responsible for 24% of world expenditure on research, 32% on high impact publications, and 32% on patent applications, while representing only 7% of the world population. In turn, India is rapidly emerging to become a powerhouse in research and innovation and has committed to increase investment in R&D and improve its R&I infrastructure. Cooperation between the EU and India is thus mutually reinforcing.


The EU is traditionally very open to cooperation with other countries and cultures. In this spirit, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, called upon Open Science, Open Innovation and Open to the World. Based on the principle, ‘Open to the World’, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme, called ‘Horizon 2020’, is open for participation of R&I actors from all over the world. Indeed for the EU science has no borders and the EU wants to cooperate with the best scientists and institutes wherever they are.


Participation and funding

A distinction has to be made, however, between eligibility for participation and receiving funding. In collaboration projects, entities from India, just like the other emerging economies Brazil, China and Russia, have to fund their own participation. For this reason, the European Commission and India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) respectively have reached an agreement in May 2016 on a Co-Funding Mechanism (CFM) to support joint projects between European and Indian universities, research institutions. This means that DST and DBT in their respective areas of competence and for specific call topics agree to fund the Indian researchers and innovators who have successfully been evaluated in a ‘Horizon 2020’ project.


Horizon 2020

‘Horizon 2020’ funds research, technological development, and innovation, with the focus on delivering economic growth faster and delivering solutions. The programme budget amounts to about €80 billion for a period of seven years from 2014 to 2020. It consists of three pillars:


The first pillar, “Excellent Science”, focuses on excellent science. It has a budget of €24 billion of which €13 billion is reserved for the European Research Council (ERC).


The ERC provides EU-funded opportunities to both early-career (2 to 7 years after PhD) and senior researchers (7+ years after PhD) from across the world to carry out their ambitious research projects in all scientific disciplines in prestigious institutions across Europe. So far, around 40 top Indian researchers have managed to secure ERC funded projects and around thousand Indians are working as part of ERC projects team members. India is the fifth country after the US, Canada, Russia and Australia in number of successful ERC grants, which shows that there is really scientific excellence in India. The success of ERC can, amongst others, be illustrated by the following facts:

  • Six Nobel Prizes laureates have benefitted from ERC grants

  • Five ERC grantees have received the Wolf Prizes;

  • Four have received Field Medals Prizes; and

  • More than hundred thousand articles in scientific journals have been published.

Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action

The first pillar also funds grants for researcher’s mobility known as Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action (MSCA); ‘Future and Emerging Technologies’ and large European research infrastructures.


The MSCA programme focuses on doctoral and post-doctoral studies with generous fellowships on offer. In March 2017, the MSCA celebrated the 100,000th fellow supported by the EU over the past 20 years. MSCAs are also a good opportunity to promote future generations of female researchers. Over 1600 Indians received Marie Curie fellowships in the period 2007-2013. Since 2014, around 435 Indian nationals/entities have benefited from MSCA for mobility and training of researchers with funding from the EU, amounting to €1.5 million. More guidance for Indian applicants is available on the website of the MSCA.


Industrial leadership

The second pillar of ‘Horizon 2020’ is “Industrial Leadership”, with a budget of €14 billion and aims at improving Europe’s Industrial capacity and competitiveness through Academia and Industry partnership.


The third pillar of ‘Horizon 2020’, funds R&I aiming at finding solutions to social and economic problems. In total, seven “Societal Challenges” have been identified:

  • Health, demographic change and wellbeing;

  • Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research, and the Bioeconomy;

  • Secure, clean and efficient energy;

  • Smart, green and integrated transport;

  • Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials;

  • Europe in a changing world - inclusive, innovative & reflective societies;

  • Secure societies - protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens

Higher education institutions of EU Member States have been recognised as centres of excellence, attracting researchers and students from all over the world, including India. For instance, Erasmus+ is open to Indian students to pursue higher studies in Europe.



In order to help students, researchers and research institutions identify the right funding opportunity and support them with practical aspects involved in any mobility, there is EURAXESS-Researchers in Motion, a European Commission initiative backed by the countries of the European Research Area (+40 countries). EURAXESS India is an information and networking tool for European researchers working outside Europe and non-European ones wishing to collaborate and/or pursue a research career in Europe. Membership is free.


Back to ‘Horizon 2020’, the Work Programmes for the period 2018-2020 will be published by the end of October 2017. The package will include call for proposals on all pillars and should include many cooperation opportunities between the EU and India. At the Steering Committee meeting, it was agreed that the CFM would specifically be extended to the following research fields: Water; Energy, in particular renewables and smart grids capacity; Nanotechnology and advanced materials; Health (vaccines, chronic diseases; mental health); Bio-economy and Agri-food; ICT, in particular Cyber-Physical-Systems (ICPS); Polar Sciences; and Green transport.


Cooperation on water will offer the biggest opportunities for Indian research institutes and innovators involved in water technology and wastewater management aiming at cleaner water and better waste treatment. A substantial call will be published end of October 2017 in which both the DST and DBT are committed to co-fund the successful Indian participants.


EU and India are also committed to enhance cooperation in innovation to harness and promote innovation among enterprises especially SMEs, Start-ups and incubators.


Finally, the cooperation opportunities on R&I between Europe and India would not be complete if the tremendous efforts done by the EU Member States and countries associated to ‘Horizon 2020’ would not be mentioned. Bilateral cooperation offers hands-on cooperation and can show the way to cooperation in a multilateral context which is always a bit more complex but at the same time very challenging and rewarding.


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