Horizon2020 Work Programmes are developed through an extensive consultation with a range of different stakeholders ranging from national government to specialised research networks and conducted in formal procedures and informal exchanges. This blog post gives a first introduction to how you can get your place in this consultation to influence the content of the Work Programmes.

How do you lobby the EU’s framework programme for Research and Innovation?

To answer that question,  let me start by demystifying what it means to lobby the Framework Programme.

To make things easier, I will focus exclusively on the societal challenge programmes in Horizon2020 here. I also recommend that you read Dan Andreés free e-book A Rough Guide to the FP7 Work Programmes. Some of the content does not match H2020, but if you substitute “Cooperation Programme” With “Societal challenges” then the book is still a valuable guide to understanding how the Framework Programme functions and what role the main stakeholders play.

also, let me already now introduce two abbreviations that will be used frequently in this text. they are described later below:

  • WP = Work Programme
  • PC = Programme Committee

Now, back to the question about how you lobby Horizon2020 Societal challenges Work Programme (WP)

First of all, lobbying for societal challenges isn’t really lobbying. This isn’t House of Cards.

Most of the time, what you do is simply to participate actively in the stakeholder consultations that the European Commission runs to ensure that the priorities they  set match the state-of-the-art in the scientific community, end-user needs and national political priorities.

The cases where you can talk about genuine lobbying is when you use the entire palette of political institutions, media and events to generate a cross-pressure or multiple levels of support (depending on your agenda) on the Commission services. However, that comes with the risk of discrediting yourself if you come across to aggressive. As a senior Danish government representative told me early in my career in Brussels, we all work in “the shadow of the future”. Meaning: there will always be a second round so you want to behave well now in order to have others behaving nicely to you next time.

Now, with that clear let’s move on to how you lobby.

Here is what could be starting scene:

You and your colleagues are frustrated that you cannot find any calls in the H2020 societal challenges that fits your research. Therefore, after waiting in vain for years, you decide to do something about it.

Or, you have a new great idea that no one knows about and you think it is perfect for Europe.

Either way, great! We need engaged scientists and the European Commission is always looking for great ideas that can help H2020 deliver on its agenda. As Dan writes in the Rough Guide:

it is evident that the Commission needs input in order to prepare the Work Programmes. So the question is not WHETHER the Commission needs input, the question is more from whom, when and how the Commission is to get this input?

The players

So we have established that the Commission needs input, but as Dan writes, the question is from whom? Let me just introduce the 3 most important groups:

  1. The Programme Committe (PC) – Member States
    The European Commission has “the right of initiative” to start the drafting of the WPs, but then needs the support of the EU member states (and associate countries like Norway and Switzerland) to deliver the WP. To liaise with the member states, the Commission has setup the Programme Committees (PC) where each member state is represented. There is a PC for each WP and the Commission has to consult the member states on every new draft of the WP.
    The national representatives of the programme committee normally consults with their national ministries and research community during the WP development, but the process varies a lot from country to country.
    The member states are formal stakeholders in the WP development process and must be consulted
  2. The European Commission Directorate-generals
    The Commission is organised in a number of Directorate Generals (DGs). For the work programme the most important DG is DG Research and Innovation, but other DGs such as DG Health, DG-Energy are also co-responsible for part of the WPs. And a number of other DGs have an interest in the topics. They are consulted during the so-called “inter-service consultation” (see below and in Dan’s book).
    The European Commission Directorate-generals are formal stakeholders in the process and must be consulted. 
  3. ETPs and Advisory Groups 
    In order to have long term strategies for research and innovation that reflect the views of industry, the European Commission funds a number of so called European Technology  Platforms (ETPs – though in the energy area they are called ETIPs as they add innovation to the title). The ETPS are led by industry, but normally also have members from the public research community. One of the main tasks of an ETP is to write a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda.
    For each WPs, the Commission has also setup a scientific advisory group consisting of independent researchers. The Advisory Groups provide early input to the WPs by setting out what the research community sees as key aspects to consider.
    The Advisory Groups and the ETPs are what you could call “natural stakeholders” in the process and are consulted by the Commission to ensure match with state-of-the-art and industry priorities. 


These where the three main stakeholders. But you are probably thinking “what about all the rest?”, “what about me?”.

In addition to the member states, the other DGs, the ETPs and Advisory Groups the Commission services consult a broad range of relevant stakeholders. The Cancer societies, Cardiologists and the Diabetes societies are among the stakeholders consulted for the health WP, but consulted stakeholders can also be running EU projects, local or regional governments, NGOs and you name it. In short: whoever has useful input to develop the WPs.

However, although the list of possible stakeholders is long, it doesn’t include just everybody. You need to have the “right to play” to join the consultation (at least if you want your input to have an effect). To do so, you need to fulfill two criteria.

The criteria

1. Relevance

Your research needs to be relevant. And I do not mean relevant to you. I mean relevant to Europe. In the EU, you demonstrate that by demonstrating how your research area matches the political priorities and policies set out in the plethora of policy initiatives of various kind published by the European institutions. The Innovation Union, the Energy union, Personalised medicine or the Clean Vehicles directive are all examples of initiatives or legislation that sets targets which your proposed research area should match and support.

Why is that how you show relevance? Because the Commission services are tasked to implement these policy initiatives and support the legislation and Horizon2020 is one of many instruments to do that. Hence, the link to policy initiatives shows that your research area can help make Horizon2020 in achieving the political targets set in these policies and legislations.

(Of course, you can also lobby at the level of influencing these priorities, but we will start out easy here)

Once you have found the documents that can support your research areas relevance you also need to demonstrate its impact.

That’s an important word in H2020 so I will repeat it: Impact.

Your research needs to make a difference in the world: support European businesses, help promote democracy, create more jobs, increase social cohesion, address the refugee crisis, improve the environment. Those kind of things.

2. Legitimacy

Ok, so you have demonstrated your research area’s relevance. Now you need to demonstrate your legitimacy as a stakeholder.

By legitimacy, I mean that you have to speak on behalf of Europe. No one cares about what you think unless you are really special (do you have a nobel prize? No. Ok, queue up with the rest of us). The Commission cares about what Europe thinks and in this case, it usually means that you need to represent a European community in a specific area.

(This is something the Commission started enforcing more strongly by the end of FP7 as they were overrun by small bands of researchers pitching all kinds of ideas without necessarily reflecting the interests of the broader scientific community. I have written another blog post that includes some thought on how this was addressed in H2020).


I have already outlined the stakeholder groups above and establishing your legitimacy is essentially either by providing input via the national PC members, have connection to the ETPs or be part of a stakeholder community that is large enough to be able to say that it “represents Europe” (yes you might also have managed to influence the Commission in a different way or through good contacts based on a long track record, but my point is: don’t call the Commission and say, “hi, my names is James, I’ve got a great idea”)

A small but important thing to maintain your legitimacy is also to know the rules of the game.

For instance, WP drafts are confidential. That does not mean you have to treat them as if someone gave you the nuclear launch codes, but it does mean you should not:

  • Post the WP drafts online
  • Write directly to the Commission referring the draft WP unless you have already established contact and been accepted as a stakeholder with whom the Commission staff shares first thought to bounce ideas.

In other words: behave.

That was the criteria: support the European agenda (relevance) and represent the European community in your field of research or the end-users affected by your research (legitimacy).

You fulfill the criteria? Good, welcome. You are ready to play.

Now you need to do two things.


Since you are not just presenting your idea, you need to coordinate with your peers. And since this is Europe you need also to coordinate between different countries.

With your peers, you need to be sure that you say the same thing. And since your first proposals – if it makes it through to the Commission services – most likely will be returned with questions for clarifications or it needs to be aligned with other stakeholders input, national priorities or new EU priorities you have to stay on your feet and in contact with your peers.

If the lobbying effort include events to raise awareness and coordination with new stakeholders that have a similar agenda as yourself it can be quite a bit of work.

You also have to coordinate with the national representatives who communicate with the Commission via the PC. That means that you yourself and each of your partners from other countries needs to be in contact with your national representatives in the PC. And since there will be several iterations of the WPbefore it is finalised you need to do so continuously.

That brings me to the last thing you need to consider.


Having a great idea that is relevant for Europe and promoting it together with European peers in a coordinated matter is great. However, it does not matter if your timing sucks.

The Commission has a cycle for how the WPs are developed and you need to know when the next cycle starts and what the different steps are in order to provide your input at the right time. Dan’s book gives a nice overview of this, although some things have changed.

As a rule of thumb, the Commission start to prepare the next WP 1- 1 1/2 year before it is published. Hence, if you want to propose a new topic you need to be ready roughly a year in advance.

In Horizon 2020 it starts with the strategic paper for the different WPs (and some overall priorities a well). The Strategic paper sets out the overall agenda: digitalisation, blue growth, personalised medicine, public acceptance. These strategic priorities are influenced by a number of high level stakeholders including national representatives, the Commission’s Advisory Groups of independent experts and sometimes the European Commissioners themselves.  During this time you can liaise with those stakeholders to suggest new strategic priorities if you manage to establish the right links with them.

Once the strategy is agreed, the Commission starts outlining drafts of the WP. Now we are starting to talk topic proposals for the call texts. This process normally picks up pace 10-8 months before the WP is published.

And let me repeat: the WP is confidential. The Commission will not just hand you a copy of the latest draft. There is a hierarchy for who gets to see and comment on the WP. Some stakeholders such as the National representatives in the PC are entitled to see and comment on the WPs; other organisations are typically consulted more or less informally. There is nothing dodgy about that, by the way. The Commission needs to check with the experts that they are including the right things, but they have to do so i a manageable way and that means keeping the number of people consulted at a reasonable level.

If you do not manage to propose new topics to the Commission (directly or via the PC) you can still suggest changes to topics in the WP draft. That is typically done via the PC or directly to the commission if you represent a strong European stakeholder.For the PCs there are different procedures in the different countries.  The commenting on WP drafts are done 6-3 months before publication of the WP.

After that the WP goes into inter-service consultation, meaning that it is checked with priorities in other Commission DG than the Directorate in charge of drafting the WPs.  By now your role is mostly to “protect” the topics you have successfully promoted from being altered or dropped. But it will increasingly be out of your hands. And rightly so, since you only participated in a stakeholder consultation

And finally the WP is published.

That’s it. If you did well you have done your service to Europe by helping to make a better WP. It is time to put together your consortium and prepare your proposal.

And in best case scenario you can start your research project 1 ½ to  4 years after you started your lobbying depending on when the call will be published.

Good luck.

PS: and by the way, if you were hoping to lobby the WPs for 2018-20 its almost too late to propose new topics. So see you in FP9 🙂