Horizon Europe 2025-2027: Re-asserting the importance of fundamental research

Current discussions of the Horizon Europe Strategic Plan for 2025-2027 understandably focus on applications of science (so-called ‘pillar 2’, corresponding to “global challenges and European industrial competitiveness”). But in the process, short shrift is given to fundamental research (‘pillar 1’, corresponding to “excellent science”, funded by two programs: the European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions). This ought to be corrected. 

The European Union has created an attractive environment for excellent frontier research, most notably through the European Research Council (ERC), which has quickly established itself as a scientific landmark. The ERC is based on two simple principles: (i) bottom-up, researcher-driven proposals; and (ii) scientific excellence as the only criterion. While applications are economically and socially essential, reducing the importance of fundamental, curiosity-driven, bottom-up research would be a short-sighted mistake. This is not just because the pursuit of truth is the first mission of science. Fundamental research also forms the foundation of applied science, in two respects: by creating the new ideas and theoretical tools it can build on; and by creating an ecosystem that attracts the sharpest minds. While the EU has long recognized the importance of innovation and innovation culture, rather less attention has been paid to fundamental insights and basic scientific ideas, even though these are the basis of the innovations of the future.

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