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In our opinion, combating climate change requires horizontal investments in RDI that promotes global climate research, creates new eco-efficient innovations and develops green business. This is the best and most sustainable way to respond to the climate emergency, and these are fields in which Finland has a lot of excellent expertise to offer.

Who will acquire the EU funding?

With the government budget session about to begin, we want to highlight one particular concern in the broad field of RDI activities: Finland is not making use of all potential sources of RDI funding to the extent that this would be possible. For example, EU competitive funding is an underutilised opportunity, even though it has been mentioned in the Government Programme and the National Roadmap for Research, Development and Innovation, and identified in the Sustainable Growth Programme for Finland too.

Finland lags well behind all its reference countries in framework programme funding received from the EU, which translates into less acquired funding, fewer commercialisation opportunities, fewer international networks and investments, fewer skills development opportunities, lower employment rate and less impact on EU research and innovation policy. 

In the current economic situation in particular, we should be aware of the fact that every euro invested in EU projects will come back many times over due to the multiplier effects. According to the 2014 Tekes (currently, Business Finland) report, when calculated using the figures of the EU 7th Framework Programme for Research, every additional tenth in Finland’s rate of return would have brought approximately EUR 75 million more in European funding to Finland in the Horizon 2020 programme. 

In EU projects, the EU covers a certain share of a project, which reduces the share of self-financing to be paid by the Finnish project operator. Depending on the type of project and the party involved, the amount of funding received from the EU is three to seven euros of project funding per each euro of self-financing. If, for example, we consider a project of EUR 4 million, the possibility of having the EU cover three of them already starts to look like a rather attractive option, compared to the project being carried out entirely with national funding. Although the EU funding does not, of course, make up for the shortage in national RDI funding, it is senseless not to use it.

Stronger national support needed

From the perspective of Finnish actors, bottlenecks include the laborious preparation of EU projects and the required self-financing. For example, for many research sector organisations, the opportunities to participate in EU projects depend on the special grants paid by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which are funded by the proceeds from the Finnish gambling system. However, in the coming years, the revenue from the gambling operations is estimated to remain lower than before. According to the minutes of the negotiations on the Government’s budget proposal for 2021, the State will continue to compensate for the decline in revenue after 2021 but, in the future, it cannot be fully compensated from the State budget. 

This means that some profitable projects will remain unrealised. The EU funding – and expertise, growth and new opportunities along with it – flow to other EU countries, while Finland keeps on losing its influence in European decision-making and research projects. This is not a small matter. It is, therefore, important to encourage Finns to compete for EU funding.

According to a report commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office, the countries succeeding best in EU funding application processes have a clear framework programme strategy with objectives and monitoring systems. In addition to a strong line of strategy, cooperation at national level and tangible support for project actors are also needed. A concrete way to promote the matter would be a cross-administrative funding model for self-financing and project preparation, which would guarantee all actors the opportunity to participate in EU funding applications and bring more EU funding to Finland. This would also make RDI funding more transparent and encourage Finnish actors to compete for it. 

More impact through cooperation

A recent example of how rapidly and effectively new financial instruments can be created and implemented, if there is political will to do so, is the financial support for businesses during the coronovirus epidemic. So, here we have a concrete, climate-friendly proposal to be introduced to the agendas of the Government’s budget negotiations and the parliamentary working group on RDI. It is also important that these things are done in broad-based national cooperation. 

Even though increasing EU funding is only one part of the entire RDI system, we believe it is a low-threshold measure that may have a surprisingly big impact. This would also allow us to make better use of the RDI investments already made, such as the LUMI supercomputer to be placed in Kajaani, providing Finnish RDI actors with access to data processing capacity of unprecedented efficiency – and enhanced opportunities to carry out international top research and innovation activities, possibly even with EU funding, – as written in the Government Programme.

Irina Kupiainen
The author is a Public Affairs Director at CSC

Jenni Hyppölä
The author works as a Policy Specialist at CSC