On 19 October, the Commission adopted the 2021 Commission Work Programme. The Commission’s focus in the year ahead will be twofold. It will first continue to put all of its efforts into managing the coronavirus crisis and start drawing lessons from it. It will also set out how Europe can seize the opportunities ahead of us to deliver on our headline ambitions. As regards my portfolio, we announced a Communication on the global approach to research, innovation, education and youth. The Work Programme also highlights the follow up to the recently adopted European Education Area Communication, including the planned initiative on micro-credentials. This initiative will support the quality, transparency and take-up of micro-credentials across the EU.

This month I spoke about the biggest impacts of the pandemic on research and innovation in an interview with Horizon magazine, where I also addressed my vision for where EU-funded research is headed. The only way for Europe to recover from the coronavirus crisis and build a better future is to work together and the pandemic has made that clearer than ever. Read the full interview here.

In the common effort against coronavirus, I am also proud to announce the half year anniversary of the European COVID-19 Data Platform, which has generated a very impressive amount of traction, with over 2.9 million web requests for data, from more than 92000 unique users in over 170 countries worldwide. The platform was launched in April to enable the rapid collection and sharing of available research data, and already contains an impressive amount of data, including over 25 thousand viral sequences and over 100 thousand unique scientific publications. Watch this video for more on the results. The platform, part of the ERAvsCorona Action Plan, marks another milestone in the EU's efforts to support researchers in Europe and around the world in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

The coronavirus is still causing unprecedented disruption in the cultural and youth sectors, for sport organisations and for education and training. It is my duty to continue to support the affected sectors as much as possible and to make sure that the lessons learned from the pandemic are taken on board. Our recent Communication on the European Education Area is a clear example. It puts forward new initiatives, more investment and stronger cooperation between Member States to help all Europeans, of all ages, benefit from the EU's rich education and training offer. The recent Digital Education Action Plan also addresses the lessons learnt from the ongoing crisis and the more structural challenges linked to the digital transformation of education and training. It looks at what is needed to enable and foster the development of a high performing digital education ecosystem. And it also aims at enhancing digital skills for the digital transformation. We are now discussing these two key initiatives with Member State representatives, stakeholders and the European Parliament. Our common goal should be to agree on how best to turn the vision of inclusive and high quality education systems that pave the way for the digital and green transitions, into reality.

The Manifesto for EU Covid-19 Research reached 2000 signatories in October. Less than three months after its launch, I am delighted to see such a strong commitment from leading researchers, innovators and organisations.

The Commission launched the Manifesto in July, as part of the common European response to the coronavirus outbreak, to maximise the accessibility of research results in the fight against Covid-19. So far, more than 500 organisations (including universities, research institutes and private companies) endorsed the Manifesto, and 1500 individuals from all over Europe expressed their support. This shows a clear commitment and strong citizen engagement towards a better valorisation of research results. Translating results into the economy is a key strategic objective of the revitalised European Research Area to support the green and digital transition and EU recovery.

On 6 October, the European Commission launched an Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, to support the economic recovery and convergence of the region. The EU is also working on a Western Balkans Agenda on research, education and cultural areas that will support the Economic and Investment plan. EU cooperation with Western Balkans offers unparalleled opportunities. The Agenda for the Western Balkans will open these opportunities to students, researchers, innovators and cultural operators so that they access new markets, become more competitive and build sustainable prosperity. It’s a positive and forward-looking vision for all. For more details, see the factsheet on the Western Balkans Agenda.

Our own experts at the Joint Research Centre have a long history of cooperation in the Western Balkans, supporting evidence-based policymaking through sharing knowledge, providing tools and fostering collaboration.

Optimising the use of evidence for policy is one of the best ways to improve the quality of public administration at all levels of governance. I was very happy to see the positive results of the JRC’s 'Science Meets Parliaments/Science Meets Regions' pilot project, which were presented at a European Week of Regions and Cities event last month. The pilot project reached out to Europe’s parliaments, regions and cities to work together on today’s big issues and is being followed up with a workshop series that will run to May 2021.

Evidence-based policymaking got a further boost in October with the launch of a new Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity. Led by the JRC, it will help to harvest and make sense of the latest knowledge, strengthening the impact of EU policies designed to protect Europe’s ecosystems and the services they provide for European citizens.

The first European “Greenathon” took place last week and saw eight research teams funded by the European Innovation Council (EIC) finding innovative solutions to pressing key challenges proposed by large European corporate players. The ideas generated during this hackathon aim to contribute to the EU Green Deal’s objectives and to a greener Europe for all.

Fifty-eight game-changing technologies have been selected in the last round of funding from the EIC 'Pathfinder Open' Pilot. Investment in research and innovation means that we can back many more of these yet-to-be-discovered technologies and support visionary researchers and entrepreneurs – making Europe more competitive and ensuring Europe leads the next wave of innovation.

On 9 October, I welcomed seven experts as members of the independent Search Committee that will make recommendations to the Commission on the best candidates for the next President of the European Research Council (ERC). Recommendations for this prestigious post will be based on a consultation of the scientific community and an open call for applications. I am also very pleased that Professor Helga Nowotny has accepted to chair the Search Committee. I have faith that this Committee of high-level scientists will provide us with a well-considered shortlist of the very best candidates.

Finally, I am glad to announce that on 30 October, the Commission awarded €508 million to 75 health research projects. The final year of Horizon 2020 sees the largest total award for collaborative research for health. The 75 projects shortlisted after evaluation will involve 1158 participants from 48 countries, and will receive a total of €508 million in grants to address a wide range of crucial health challenges and opportunities.

With best wishes for the month ahead,

Mariya Gabriel

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