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Horizon 2020 – What you should know if you wish to get funded by the EU


If you have ever thought about applying for EU funding (e.g. Horizon 2020), you have probably felt lost in the maze of information provided. In order to make some things clear, here are some useful points that might help you put your thoughts on track.

Practical information on grants that you should always keep in mind:

  • Light documentation requirements apply to small grants (up to € 60 000);
  • Beneficiary organisations must part-finance their projects from their own resources, revenue from the projects or contributions from other donors (‘co-financing’);
  • To obtain significant payments at the outset of their project (‘pre-financing’), certain beneficiary organisations, such as NGOs, may be required to provide financial guarantees;
  • Organisations must provide an audit report if applying for grants of € 750 000 or more for specific projects, or for grants of € 100 000 or more to finance their operating costs;
  • Applicants are given a clear indication of the likely time needed to evaluate their proposal and to finalise the agreement;
  • The submission procedure can be divided into two separate stages, making it possible to reject proposals which have no chance of success at an early stage on the basis of a short description of the project. Applicants thus need to prepare a full proposal only if they have a chance of obtaining a grant;
  • Simple rules govern purchases made by beneficiaries to implement their project. For purchases below € 60 000, beneficiaries must adhere to two basic principles: sound financial management and no conflicts of interest.

Small companies – Main funding sources

1.COSME, a special programme for SMEs

COSME stands for Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. Managed by the European Commission, it is a new programme specifically designed to support SMEs. COSME aims to improve SMEs’ access to finance and markets, support entrepreneurs and promote better conditions for business creation and growth.

The programme facilitates and improves SMEs’ access to finance through two financial instruments:

  • The Loan Guarantee Facility;
  • The Equity Facility for Growth.

COSME is managed by the Commission through the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (EASME).

EU-backed small business loans

Support for entrepreneurs and businesses is available through a wide range of EU programmes, via local financial institutions. The “Access to finance” Web portal helps find EU financing for projects such as loans, guarantees, equity funding and many others.

2. Transport, energy and ICT

SMEs are also eligible for funding under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) programme, which finances projects to fill the missing links in the EU’s energy, transport and digital networks. Eligibility rules are set out in each call for proposals. The Commission manages CEF funding directly through the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA).

3. Research and innovation

SMEs can participate in the new EU research programme Horizon 2020 (H2020) in the following areas:

  • ‘Industrial leadership’: Innovation in SMEs
  • The Sustainable Industry Low Carbon Scheme (SILC II)
  • Part of the ‘Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies’ dimension of H2020
  • ‘Societal challenges’: The energy efficiency part of the challenge ‘Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy’;
  • Calls for proposals on waste, water innovation and sustainable supply of raw material under the challenge ‘Climate action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials’.

These Horizon 2020 areas are managed by the Commission through EASM.

The SME instrument targets highly innovative SMEs with a strong ambition to grow and internationalise, regardless of whether they are high-tech, research-driven, social or services providing companies. SMEs can get up to € 2.5 million each in funding for business support and mentoring.

4. Agriculture

Under the common agricultural policy (CAP), several funding opportunities are available to small companies:

  • Those involved in the School Milk Scheme, the School Fruit Scheme and the promotion of farm products in the EU and non-EU countries are eligible for funding;
  • Those engaged in farming may be eligible for a direct payment under the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund;
  • Those located in rural areas may be eligible for funding under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Funding priorities vary according to the priorities of the EU country or region.

Did you know?

Two main factors determine whether a company is an SME:

a. number of employees and

b. either turnover or balance sheet total;

SMEs may benefit from fewer requirements, or from reduced fees for checking their compliance with EU rules.

Farmers – Main funding sources

1. Common agricultural policy

Direct payments are granted to farmers under certain European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) support schemes. Each EU country establishes the conditions for support in individual operational programmes and is responsible for managing the funds on its own territory.

Funding is also available from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and national/regional and sometimes private sources.

2. Research and innovation

Farmers may also benefit from support in the H2020 area of food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy. Funding opportunities relating to food and diet are listed on the Participant Portal.

3. COSME Programme

Farmers can benefit from some actions of the COSME Programme – see the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan for detailed information. The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) manages the programme.

Funding is available under the European Social Fund for improving employment conditions in rural areas.

Did you know?

  • Poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas is a priority, as some 14 % of the population in the EU’s predominantly rural regions suffer from employment rates less than half the EU average.
  • When farmers’ position in the food supply chain is relatively weak, they can benefit from organizing themselves better through local markets and short supply chains;
  • Hundreds of thousands of projects in the EU have benefited from EU funding. European Structural and Investment Funds combine to support economic development across all EU countries.

Now that you know, get ready for the next 5 steps to get funded:

Step 1: Find the suitable Call for your Proposals

Step 2: Find your project partners or apply as an individual

Step 3: Create an account on the portal for applications

Step 4: Register your organization

Step 5: Submit your project proposal to the Commission

If you have any trouble at any of the last 3 steps, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a specialized consultant that will guide you through the application and approval.