Horizon Europe: The Program Structure Explained

April 29, 2021

Horizon Europe is the European Commission’s key funding program for financing European research and innovation projects. The program is built on 3 pillars: excellent science, global challenges, and innovative Europe. Learn more about its structure and find out who can apply for this funding in this article.

Horizon Europe is the European Commission’s (EC) key funding program for financing European research and innovation projects. It is the successor of the Horizon 2020 program. The structure of Horizon Europe is based on the mantra of ‘evolution, not revolution’ and in that respect does not contain any major surprises.

Horizon Europe has a budget of € 95.5 billion for the period of 2021 – 2027.

In this new program the EC plans to raise EU science spending levels by an impressive 50%. The main goal to create new growth and jobs across Europe by strengthening scientific knowledge and know-how within the EU. The program enables this by supporting the development and introduction of new technologies/innovations and by tackling major societal challenges facing Europe. The new Horizon Europe program is built on 3 pillars.


Excellent Science focuses on basic research and basic research funding. The European Research Council (ERC), which funds top-level research, and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), which promote mobility, continue their work under this pillar. The first pillar also includes a research infrastructure development program.


The second pillar consists of thematic clusters that will primarily be developed through consortium projects. The clusters are as follows:

  • Health
  • Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society
  • Civil Security for Society
  • Digital, Industry and Space
  • Climate, Energy and Mobility
  • Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment.


Innovative Europe strives to turn science into European innovations. The pillar includes one of the framework program’s new features, the European Innovation Council (EIC). The EIC is a system developed primarily for small and medium-sized European businesses with the aim of accelerating the adoption of breakthrough innovations by fast-growing SMEs.  The pillar also supports the development of European innovation ecosystems.

Horizon Europe program pillars

In comparison to Horizon 2020 program, the following 3 new elements are incorporated in the Horizon Europe program.

1. Missions: Sets of measures to achieve bold, inspirational and measurable goals within a set timeframe. There are 5 main missions as part of Horizon Europe:

main missions Horizon Europe

2. Open science policy: Mandatory open access to publications and open science principles are applied throughout the program.

3. New approach to partnerships: Objective-driven and more ambitious partnerships with industry in support of EU policy objectives.

Who can apply for Horizon Europe?
Participating is open to all types of organizations from EU countries and the so-called associated countries. From SMEs, Universities, research organizations to corporations. All are welcome to submit a proposal. However, the competition is fierce and only top-notch proposals can expect funding. Furthermore, most calls require a consortium of 3 partners from different EU or associated countries. Information on the latest funding and tender opportunities can be found in the EC Portal.

This was in a quick recap of the new program structure of Horizon Europe. As there is still a lot more to discuss, more details about this topic will be shared in future blogs.  For additional information you can also take a look on the Horizon 2020 website.

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