Canada and EU deepen research partnerships as Horizon Europe talks enter new phase

Lindsay Borthwick
June 30, 2021

As the global geopolitical landscape shifts, Canada and the European Union are deepening bilateral cooperation on research and innovation. At the EU-Canada Joint Summit in Brussels in mid June, leaders announced new partnerships on health, the oceans and raw materials, and agreed to launch exploratory discussions on Canada joining Horizon Europe, the EU’s new 100-billion research program. 

“We want [Canadian researchers] with us to intensify the exchanges between our innovators, for example in bioeconomy, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, digital technologies, you just name it. And our Canadian friends were happy about this invitation,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a statement following the Summit.

Canada and the EU have forged closer ties over the past five years: In 2017, they signed two flagship agreements, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which have spurred cooperation and dialogue across a range of policy areas, including research and innovation. They have also been exploring membership in Horizon Europe, a core part of the EU's strategy for international cooperation on research and innovation.

At the Summit, both von der Leyen and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled that talks on Canada's potential association with Horizon Europe are entering a new phase. The EU has been explicit that association will be limited to international partners with a strong research and innovation capacity that share common values, such as academic freedom, gender equality, research ethics, open science and evidence-based policymaking.

In a statement to Research Money, Global Affairs Canada confirmed that Canada has begun exploratory talks with the Europeans. Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada has recently appointed Marie-Hélène Légaré, Director General of ISED's Science Policy Branch, as Canada's Chief Negotiator.

Membership in Horizon Europe, which officially launched in February, would allow Canadian researchers to have the same access and privileges as European researchers do. In contrast, association with the EU’s previous R&D program, Horizon 2020, was limited to 16 European nations, though Canadian research organizations participated in more than 300 projects as part of international teams.

“Members of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) were pleased to see that strengthened research collaboration partnerships through the new Horizon Europe program was a discussion point at the Canada-EU Leaders Summit,” wrote Anne-Marie Brugger, Manager, Inter-Agency Communications, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, in an email to Research Money.  

In 2019, at the last EU-Canada Joint Summit, the federal government allocated $50-million over five years to support the participation of Canadian researchers in international teams funded through Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. Using some of those funds, the CRCC launched its first competition under New Frontiers in Research Fund - International Stream at the beginning of last year.

New R&D partnerships go beyond Horizon Europe

At the 2021 summit, Canada and the EU also committed to working together to end the COVID-19 pandemic and drive an equitable global recovery, fight climate change and protect the environment, and promote democratic values and international peace and security.

On research and innovation, the leaders announced several new initiatives and recommitted to cooperation through:

  • a new Canada-EU Dialogue on Health focused on identifying new and emerging health threats, and sharing information and best practices on priority health issues like mental health;
  • a new Ocean Partnership Forum, under the EU-Canada Ocean Partnership Declaration, to bring together industry and other stakeholders to ensure the sustainable use of the oceans,
  • a series of joint events to promote sustainability, environmental stewardship and climate action in agriculture
  • an EU-Canada Strategic Partnership on Raw Materials to ensure a secure and sustainable supply chain of the critical minerals and metals,
  • deeper digital cooperation through the Canada-EU Digital Dialogue and the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI),
  • Stronger space cooperation, noting, “[Canada and the EU] share a commitment to ensuring that space remains free of conflict so that all humanity can benefit from the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.” 


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