• Team Owen Bonnici

The biggest one in the world




There is no doubt that the newly hatched, just served, recently unpacked €95.5 billion EU Research and Innovation Fund is the biggest and largest programme in the whole world in its field.

It is indeed a fantastic opportunity for Malta and its researchers to be able to form part of this family and this is a classic example of what punching above one’s weight means. But then again, all this noise from my end is more about the possibility for this beautiful island to ground its feet in the granules of future-time in research and innovation than anything else.

Malta is truly the most beautiful place on earth and as we are voyaging towards the twin green/digital transition in the changed, post-disease world, we can make its economy stronger and its resilience much better by bringing our researchers and scientists closer to those unique and nation-changing funding opportunities. In turn, this would give rise to a domino effect of new jobs, exciting careers and, why not, whole novel markets.

The new funding program for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe, is an improved version of the program which has just closed, Horizon 2020.

Malta has participated in Horizon 2020 in the past programming period. I have looked at some statistics prepared by MCST Chair Dr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and his very good team. In all more than 220 local researchers have benefitted from a total of EUR 32 million to finance some 160 projects.

These are certainly encouraging figures which provide an interesting foundation which will enable us ambitious creatures to reach better goals looking forward.

I intend to keep speaking about the success stories in the field because, in that manner, the public at large can conceptualise better what we are talking about and what our end game is. Also, talking about the best of the best serves as a wonderful fire-starter for more researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and others to take a look at themselves and start believing that they can do things better than what they used to do and what others do.

On our end, the importance that the EU is giving to R&I is also being echoed at national level through various decisions which were taken, including the creation of a new Ministry dedicated to Research and Innovation, the increase in the budget of the national Research and Innovation programme managed by MCST, and the investment in European partnerships and other national schemes managed by MCST aimed at increasing the participation of Maltese entities in Horizon Europe.

The active participation of Maltese entities and researchers in the EU R&I programme will result in the creation of markets and jobs in Malta. Maltese participation will also attract the best talents to stay in Malta and others to come to Malta, whether as individual researchers or larger companies, to set up their Research, Development, and Innovation Departments here.

The launch of Horizon Europe funding programme for Research and Innovation, in turn, marks the start of the European Innovation Council, which could help accelerate the scaling up of breakthrough technologies, which could in turn give birth to game-changing innovation (thanks to direct assistance to the most promising and innovative start-ups and SMEs) which could then be leading to a new generation of world-leading companies based in Europe and its member states.

It is indeed a chain of cause and effect and one thing leading to another. That is why I took the very serious decision of jotting down three which could in a stretch of a single sentence.

I would like to mention another notion – the so-called missions approach which is what makes this funding program so much more interesting to people at large.

In essence, EU missions are commitments to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our world like fighting cancer, adapting to climate change, protecting our oceans, living in greener cities, and ensuring soil health and food. They are an integral part of the Horizon Europe framework programme.

This missions approach has, like everything else facing the bright side of the moon, ups and downs. But the biggest up is that the public at large knows that the billions allocated for research and innovations have a practical aim, a mission. And science, as we know, can grab the “I” “M” from the world “impossible” and wrangle with them until they break lose and fall on the ground into dark and obscure oblivion.

All we need to remember is the largest, most ambitious scientific mission wo/man has seen, that which saw humans’ step on the moon back in JFK days. That was a mission which looked pretty much impossible which science rendered it possible.

True, maybe every other mission which man/woman-kind can contemplate pales in comparison to the wonders of “Apollo 11”, but mission-based research can have a tremendous impact on our future and the future of our loved ones. Imagine if through Horizon-funded research a green mantle falls faster on our Continent, turning rapidly, like a new environmental Midas, everything it touches into green-complaint pieces of existence.

I really wish to live the day when Malta becomes carbon neutral, when putting petrol in a car becomes as extinct and rare as seeing your neighbour going to work in an Għonnella, when climate change is only the name of an unpopular NETFLIX movie and robots, AI, nano stuff and internet powered thingies are as common as political candidates’ leaflets piling up in cosy rubbish bins at the homes of our constituents in the thick of an election campaign or as a swarm of bees circling around a nest of honey.

R&I can be a tool of societal change, of revolutionary progress of the quiet and intelligent kind, of progress. It can help us reconcile economic growth and productivity with quality of life and public health, whilst ensuring the highest level of environmental protection.

I am a strong believer in the power of science, research, and innovation.


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