Valeria delle Cave interviews Agnieszka Wykowska for OpenTalk

Once Angela Merkel called it “the Champion’s League of Research in Europe”, underlining the competitive character of the European Research Council (ERC), the first European organization for the financing of high-level frontier research, which provides individual research grants. But in the last months ERC has been facing a challenge different than science, that is the definition of Horizon Europe budget, thus how much European Union will invest in research and innovation in the next 7 years. Therefore, although experts recommended increase of EU research budget (to at least 120 billion) in the MFF for the period 2021-2027, the European Council in July agreed to €76 billion, the same budget as the previous Horizon 2020 programme. Next Generation EU and Brexit are two additional elements that will influence the final decision. The ERC’s President Jean-Pierre Bourguignon recently held a talk at the European Parliament asking for more support in order to avoid the worst scenario: “So, being below €77 billion, the Horizon Europe MFF budget would at best stagnate over 7 years, at a time when so much depends on it”. (

ERC grantees and research institutions throughout Europe are supporting the cause with great commitment. During ESOF 2020 in Trieste the initiative Friends of ERC presented an open petition letter to “call upon the Heads of States and Governments, to secure funding for the ERC in Horizon Europe” ( During the EU Research & Innovation Days, on the 24th of September, a new association was launched, The Association of ERC Grantees (AERG), whose mission is to demonstrate “the wider societal benefits of funding excellent, high-risk, high-gain scientific research” (

Agnieszka Wykowska, PI of the Social Cognition in Human-Robot Interaction (S4HRI) research line at the IIT in Genova is among the founding members of AERG. In 2016 Wykowska was awarded a European Research Council (ERC)’s grant for her “InStance” project, which addresses the question of when, and under what conditions people treat robots as intentional beings.

When and why did you start to think and organize an Association of ERC grantees?

I was invited to join the group of the founding members of the Association of ERC Grantees (AERG) at the stage when its first foundational ideas had already been laid. I received an invitation to join AERG around January 2019. But the first idea for AERG apparently dates back to 2016 where Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon (the President of ERC) organised a call for volunteers to do this initiative at ESOF Manchester. Prof. Axel Cleeremans (the current President of AERG) met with Prof. Bourguignon about a year later to set things in motion.

Read the full interview on the OpenTalk of the Italian Institute of Technology