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Europe: a key dimension of the CEA's research strategy

​Involvement in funding programmes, contribution to public policies through its scientific expertise, and development of major partnerships: the CEA has strengthened its European strategy over the past few years, making cooperation its watchword. Bertrand Bouchet, the CEA director of European Affairs, discusses the CEA’s position on Europe and the French presidency of the EU Council.

Published on 28 February 2022

​How would you define the CEA’s strategy on Europe?

The CEA’s strategy is based on the idea that Europe is currently the most appropriate environment for resolving the challenges facing us, whether this be the energy transition, climate change or digital transformation, not to mention our capacity to respond to emergency situations or to enhance our future industrial prospects. To serve France as per our mission statement, the CEA must be both resolutely committed to and carry sufficient weight in Europe.

This ambition is driven by three main objectives: obtaining European funding for our research projects, contributing to EU public policies in our fields of expertise (relying on the organisation’s scientific and technological competencies), and developing major partnerships in our keys fields of activities.

As we apply for funding in a broad range of European calls for projects, we benefit from the funding instruments proposed by the European Union, especially in research under the framework programme for research and innovation, formerly known as Horizon 2020 and now called Horizon Europe. This is a key objective as these tools give us access to resources that propel our research forward in different fields of activities, while giving us the opportunity to belong to different networks, collaborate with our European partners, and enhance the visibility of our actions and publications.

For several years now, we have been able to consolidate our contribution to ongoing debates and the definition of the EU’s public policies on subjects close to our heart, i.e. energy, health, industry, etc. These subjects are a top priority for the European Union whose policies will affect the relevant strategies of its member states and stakeholders, including research organisations such as the CEA. Considering the CEA’s core competencies in these fields, we have the ability and thus a certain responsibility to provide insight during the definition and implementation these very policies. We are therefore seeking to incite discussions and take part in the European debate with EU institutions like the Commission, Council and Parliament, in concert with our relevant French ministries.

The third objective of our strategy for Europe involves building and maintaining major partnerships with our counterparts in Europe, specifically with European technology research bodies such as Fraunhofer in Germany, VTT in Finland, TNO in the Netherlands, etc. Other than occasional cooperation actions within projects, we wanted to federate research organisations under the scope of strategic agreements in order to establish joint roadmaps on key issues.

What is the outcome of this European strategy for the CEA?

In terms of European funding for research projects, we are the second top recipient of the Horizon 2020 framework programme, with more than 750 projects having been financed over the past seven years. This is thanks to the unstinting efforts of our teams who have consistently submitted around 500 projects per year on many subjects covered by the framework programme. This cross disciplinarity is a specific feature of the CEA as its activities range from fundamental disciplines to applied research.
We have also built up a veritable knowledge bank on how to best answer European calls for projects, with a success rate of 23%. This is more than double the average European success rate, reflecting the scientific value of our teams, the worth of our projects submitted, and the professional approach taken when putting together and following up our project proposals!

As for our contribution to EU institutions, we have been producing a sustained number of analyses on key issues on the European agenda for more than two years now, i.e. hydrogen, post-Covid recovery plans, intellectual property to name just a few. All our publications are public and are available on the CEA website.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning the European Chips Act proposal announced in February 2022, the fruits of one of our partnerships with the EU. This European plan to resolve semiconductor shortages relies on the key role of research & technology organisations (RTO) in ensuring technological leadership and providing support to the industry, particularly through collaboration agreements between German, (Fraunhofer) Belgian (Imec) and French (CEA) research institutes. In the field of high-performance computations, we recently initiated collaboration with the Jülich research centre in Germany, resulting in the creation of a joint virtual laboratory.

How are these actions materialising on a European scale?

Cooperation is the key word behind all of the CEA’s actions in the European arena. We take part in public debate ongoing in Brussels via different associations such as EARTO where we have the opportunity to share our visions common to other European research organisations.

The CEA has also been a member of the French Club of associated research organisations for more than 30 years, formerly known as the CLORA and now the Maison Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie since 1 January 2022. This association first and foremost offers a space where French research organisations can work together, as well as providing its members with a direct interface with its European partners and stakeholders in Brussels.

The CEA decided to reinforce its presence in Brussels in April 2021 by setting up an office for its representatives closer to the source to share its outlook and positions with its different European partners based on the strong scientific information it collects. One of the objectives of this office is to help Europe better understand the skills and role of the CEA in fields outside nuclear energy, as it is still strongly associated with nuclear activities by a broader audience.

What kind of expectations do you have for the French presidency of the EU Council (PFUE) in terms of research and more specifically for the CEA?

The presidency of the EU Council lasts six months during which the governing state has control over the schedule of meetings between EU member states. The success of a country’s presidency is gauged by its capacity to pass legislative texts under negotiation by the Council. Beyond this, the presidency provides the governing state with the opportunity to push its key issues to the forefront at summits between heads of states, interest meetings and events organised by public authorities on subjects endorsed by the presidency.

Within the scope of this presidency, the CEA is specifically committed to organising and/or contributing to events highlighting its pet subjects, namely the energy transition and digital transformation, which are on the EU’s list of top political priorities. All these events are organised with partners, reflecting the collective mindset of the European Union. After all, Europe is all about working together and building consensus.

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