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In today's Morning Brief:

ERC urges scientists to contribute in the Conference on the Future of Europe

The European Research Council, the EU’s fundamental research funder, is urging scientists to stress the importance of science and share ideas for improving it during the Conference on the Future of Europe. The conference is a year-long series of debates where citizens of the EU share their ideas for shaping the future of the bloc, including potential changes to its policies and institutions. These public debates focus on a number of priority areas such as health, education and climate change.

Science is not one of the conference priorities, but the ERC encourages scientists to nonetheless stress the importance of fundamental research for the green and digital transitions and tackling future crises. “Thus, we, the members of the ERC Scientific Council, urge Europe’s scientists and all those who believe in the positive power of science to make your voices heard and share your ideas on how we can improve science by all means available,” said a statement by the agency’s governing group.


NextGeneration EU pandemic recovery fund: guide to mobilize research funds

As member states prepare to spend the €723.8 NextGeneration EU pandemic recovery fund, a group of innovation experts from around Europe has compiled a report explaining the scheme, how it will operate, and how to access the fund in 21 countries. The package of grants and loans package, to be spent by 2023, sits on top of the EU‘s seven-year budget, bringing the total for 2021 – 2027 to €2.018 trillion in current prices. “NextGenerationEU is the biggest innovation funding opportunity for European industry in EU history,” said Pekka Koponen, president of the European Association of Innovation Consultants. “However, it is not easy to get. Funding is distributed through hundreds of regional, national and EU-instruments in all EU languages,” he said. “This is why we made this guide.”

Take-up of EU regional funds by member states is typically quite low in the first years of a new seven year budget. With the EU recovery fund having a lifespan of barely three years and 70% of grants expected to be committed by the end of 2022, there is a risk the money may not get absorbed as quickly as required. Unlike other state aid, research and development spending for IPCEIs (important projects of common European interest) can be funded up to 100%. This is important for technologies such as green hydrogen that are yet to become profitable. But most countries have not said how much money they plan to invest in IPCEIs, in fields such as batteries, hydrogen and cloud services. Read more on Science Business.


DG RTD: Joanna Drake is new deputy director general

The College of Commissioners appointed Joanna Drake deputy director general in charge of implementation, impact and sustainable investment strategies at the European Commission’s directorate for research. Drake will replace Patrick Child who will in turn take her position as deputy director general for mobility and environment at the directorate for environment, where she is among other initiatives responsible for resource-efficiency policies. As deputy director general, Child managed the cancer mission and was responsible for climate action, clean energy and mobility technologies.


EU ministers discuss preparations for COP26 conference

EU environment ministers meeting for an informal session at Brdo pri Kranju have discussed the UN climate conference COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November. Slovenian Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak said the discussion on Tuesday sought to analyse the situation, the progress achieved and what more needed to be done ahead of the conference. Addressing reporters after the afternoon session of the ministerial, Vizjak noted the COP26 conference’s four major goals in bringing about progress in international talks: mitigation, adaptation, finance and cooperation. “The political limelight will definitely be on global ambitions in the field of mitigation, as well as financing commitments and boosting the policy of adaptation to climate change,” said Vizjak. Read more on Euractiv.


Will the Zoom revolution transform the Brussels bubble?

The hottest debate in Brussels this fall will be about teleworking, hot desking and online voting. Organizations around the world are grappling with how to apply lessons from the pandemic and adapt to the Zoom revolution. And the European Union’s two largest institutions are no exception.

In the Commission, the frontline cuts between managers, who are reluctant to lose direct oversight of their subordinates, and lower-level employees, who are keen to cement the benefits of remote work. In the Parliament, the discussion centers on whether democracy is better served when MEPs are required to gather in one place — or if more flexible arrangements allow them to be in better touch with their constituents. Both institutions are working toward finalizing rules that would come into effect when the coronavirus subsides, setting working conditions for the coming months, if not years.

As the institutions contemplate workers returning to their desks, some of the flexible working arrangements that had started to be put in place before the pandemic, have become the basis for new work plans that are poised to enter into force next fall. COVID permitting, the Commission is aiming to allow half of its workforce back in the office by September, with teleworking guidelines adopted in the early fall.

According to a recent negotiating document seen by Politico, the Commission is proposing its employees spend at least 40 percent of their workweek (equivalent to two days a week) in the office and at least 20 percent (one day a week) working from home, with the rest being decided in agreement with their bosses. Read more on Politico.

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