ERC kicks off Horizon Europe

€1.9 billion will be made available by the European Research Council (ERC) in 2021 to allow some 1,000 top researchers to pursue frontier research. As in previous years, most of the funding (66%) is earmarked for early- to mid-career scientists and scholars. The funding will also support jobs for an estimated 6,860 postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and other research staff employed in ERC-funded teams.

Established by the ERC Scientific Council, the 2021 work programme was adopted on 22 February by the European Commission. This work programme is the first approved under the 2021-2027 European Union Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Research, Innovation, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “I am very pleased that we have today adopted the Work Programme of the European Research Council. This important step paves the way for launching calls that support top researchers and their teams to pursue frontier research at different stages of their careers. The first call will support young researchers across Europe who are starting their own independent research team or programme. They are the future of European research.

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon commented: “I was very encouraged by the strong backing the ERC received from the scientific community and the European Parliament during the political negotiations on the EU long-term budget and Horizon Europe. As a result of such unwavering support, the ERC’s mission and funding principles have been preserved, together with its dedicated funding agency and its overall budget level. The ERC will continue supporting Europe’s researchers as they pursue their most innovative ideas.” 

He added: “A later than expected political agreement on the EU budget has impacted the timing of the first Horizon Europe calls. However, the European Commission’s commitment, and the outstanding dedication of the ERC Executive Agency staff, have enabled us to maintain the original planning for the evaluations, in particular for the 2021 Starting Grant call. I am also pleased that applicants based in the United Kingdom and in countries associated to Horizon 2020 will still be able to apply on a conditional basis even if the association agreements are not yet in place. The ERC is now very hopeful for a timely conclusion of Horizon Europe association negotiations in order to be able to fund successful applicants.

The 2021 work programme introduces some novelties, such as interviews now being part of the evaluation process also for Advanced Grant applicants and two new evaluation panels. Due to the transition from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe, the call calendar is shifted compared to the calendars of previous years, and the Synergy and Proof of Concept calls will not open under this year’s work programme.

Calls Calendar and Submission Deadlines

The work programme published on 22 February includes a calendar of grant competitions.

The Starting Grant call is scheduled to open on 25 February 2021. While the initial plan was to close the call on 24 March, it should be noted that the deadline for submission of applications will be extended until 8 April. The extension of the deadline is intended to give as much time to Starting Grant applicants as possible while preserving the evaluation calendar and the budgetary allocation.

The Consolidator Grant call will open on 11 March 2021 and the Advanced Grant on 20 May 2021.

The eligibility windows for Starting and Consolidator Grant applicants follow the standard pattern, with 1 January 2021 as the reference date.

Synergy Grants will not be available under this work programme. Nonetheless, the ERC Scientific Council is expecting to be able to open the first Synergy Grant call of Horizon Europe still this summer, with funding to be provided under the next work programme.

Similarly, the Proof of Concept Grants are not available under this work programme, but a call is expected to open in the second half of this year under the next work programme.

The Scientific Council expects the call schedule to be back to more familiar opening and closing timeframes by mid-2022. These shifts in the calls timetable will not affect the eligibility periods of candidates applying to Starting and Consolidator Grants.

ERC 2021 Timeline

Interviews for Advanced Grant applicants

Bringing the Advanced Grants evaluation process in line with that of the Starting and Consolidator Grants, researchers whose proposals reach the second step of the Advanced Grant evaluation will now be invited to present their proposal to the evaluation panel in an interview.

ERC panel structure redefined

Two entirely new evaluation panels have been added to the ERC Panel Structure: SH7 - Human Mobility Environment and Space, and PE11 – Materials Engineering. The introduction of these two new panels is part of a broader review of the panel structure by the ERC Scientific Council, redefining the contours of all panels, enriching their descriptors and taking into account the balance between panels in terms of the number of proposals assessed in each call. Panel structure for ERC calls 2021 and 2022.

Open science

As required by the new Horizon Europe regulation, researchers who benefit from ERC funding under the Horizon Europe programme will now be required to submit a data management plan within the first six months of their project implementation.

Associated countries

At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. However, applicants established in countries associated to the previous Framework Programme, Horizon 2020, and in countries that are negotiating association agreements with the European Union, including the United Kingdom, may apply to the calls under this work programme.

The funding of successful applicants based in countries outside of the European Union will depend on whether an association agreement between their country and the European Union will be in place at the time of the signature of the grant agreements for the call to which they applied.

Potential applicants based outside of the European Union should refer to the text in the Work Programme, on page 3 and Annex 3, as well as to the calls calendar for the indicative dates for the signature of the grant agreements of each call.

ERC 2021 Work Programme