As the end of the year – and the decade – fast approaches, we take this opportunity of wishing our members and readers a warm and festive holiday season and a bright and innovative new year in 2020.

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The European Commission unveiled its much awaited European Green Deal on 11 December, outlining a long list of policy initiatives aimed at putting Europe on track to reach net-zero global warming emissions by 2050.

In presenting the European Green Deal before a packed European Parliament in Brussels, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowed to “leave no-one behind” in the race to achieve a climate neutral economy by 2050. “This is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” she said. “Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet” and “to make it work for our people.”

Here are the 10 main points in the Commission plan:

1. ‘Climate neutral’ Europe. This is the overarching objective of the European Green Deal. The EU will aim to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a goal that will be enshrined in a ‘Climate Law’ to be presented in March 2020.

That means updating the EU’s climate ambition for 2030, with a 50-55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions to replace the current 40% objective. The 55% figure will be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.

The Commission wants to leave no stone unturned and plans to review every EU law and regulation in order to align them with the new climate goals. This will start with the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive, but also the Emissions Trading Directive and the Effort Sharing Regulation, as well as the infamous LULUCF directive dealing with land use change. Proposals there will be submitted as part of a package in March 2021.

A plan for “smart sector integration”, bringing together the electricity, gas and heating sectors closer together “in one system”, will be presented in 2020. This will come with a new initiative to harness “the enormous potential” of offshore wind, officials said.

2. Circular economy. A new circular economy action plan will be tabled in March 2020, as part of a broader EU industrial strategy. It will include a sustainable product policy with “prescriptions on how we make things” in order to use less materials, and ensure products can be reused and recycled.

Carbon-intensive industries like steel, cement and textiles, will also be under the spotlight in the new circular economy plan. One key objective is to prepare for “clean steelmaking” using hydrogen by 2030. New legislation will also be presented in 2020 to make batteries reusable and recyclable.

3. Building renovation. This is meant to be one of the flagship programmes of the Green Deal. The key objective there is to “at least double or even triple” the renovation rate of buildings, which currently stands at around 1%.

4. Zero-pollution. Whether in air, soil or water, the objective is to reach a “pollution-free environment” by 2050. New initiatives there include a chemical strategy for a “toxic-free environment”.

5. Ecosystems & biodiversity. A new biodiversity strategy will be presented in March 2020, in the run-up to a UN biodiversity summit taking place in China in October. “Europe wants to lead by example” with new measures to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, an EU official said. That includes measures to tackle soil and water pollution as well as a new forest strategy. “We need more trees in Europe,” the official said, both in cities and in the countryside. New labelling rules will be tabled to promote deforestation-free agricultural products.

6. Farm to fork strategy. To be tabled in Spring 2020, the new strategy will aim for a “green and healthier agriculture” system. This includes plans to “significantly reduce the use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics,” an EU official said. New national strategic plans due to be submitted next year by member states under the Common Agricultural Policy will be scrutinised to see whether they are aligned with the objectives of the Green Deal.

7. Transport. One year after the EU agreed new CO2 emission standards for cars, the automotive sector is once again in the Commission’s firing line. The current objective is to reach 95gCO2/km by 2021. Now, “we need to work towards zero,” sometime in the 2030s an EU official said.

Electric vehicles will be further encouraged with an objective of deploying 1 million public charging points across Europe by 2025. “Every family in Europe needs to be able to drive their electric car without having to worry about the next charging station,” the official explained.

“Sustainable alternative fuels” – biofuels and hydrogen – will be promoted in aviation, shipping and heavy duty road transport where electrification is currently not possible.

8. Money. To “leave no-one behind,” the Commission proposes a Just Transition Mechanism to help regions most heavily dependent on fossil fuels. “We have the ambition to mobilise €100 billion precisely targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors,” said von der Leyen as she presented the Green Deal. The fund will mobilise resources from the EU’s regional policy budget, the InvestEU programme, with money coming from the European Investment Bank, as well as EIB funding from the EU bank’s own capital.

Every euro spent from the fund could be complemented by 2 or 3 euros coming from the region. EU’s state aid guidelines will be reviewed in that context so that national governments are able to directly support investments in clean energy and not run foul of the Commission’s competition directorate.

9. R&D and innovation. With a proposed budget of €100bn over the next seven years (2021-2027), the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme will also contribute to the Green Deal. 35% of the EU’s research funding will be set aside for climate-friendly technologies under an agreement struck earlier this year. And a series of EU research “moonshots” will focus chiefly on environmental objectives.

10. External relations. Finally, EU diplomatic efforts will be mobilised in support of the Green Deal. One measure likely to attract attention – and controversy – is a proposal for a carbon border tax. As Europe increases its climate ambitions, “we expect the rest of the world to play its role too,” an EU official explained. But if not, Europe is “not going to be naïve,” and will protect its industry against unfair competition.

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The European Innovation Council (EIC) announced its first round of ‘blended’ grant and equity investments with a commitment to fund 39 high-tech SMEs, of which the largest number come from France and Israel.

Another 36 companies won grants alone. The total value of the awards is €278 million, of which more than half is equity investment. The funding spans 20 countries, of which five are outside the EU.

The awards are a milestone in the roll-out of the EIC, the new technology commercialisation body funded through the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme that has the European Commission acting as an equity investor for the first time. The EIC is still in its pilot phase and will be fully launched in 2021 together with Horizon Europe, Horizon 2020’s successor programme. The Commission aims to have the EIC Fund, which will buy the equity, fully operational by early next year.

France and Israel each contributed six beneficiaries of the ‘blended finance’ which is a mix of grants and equity investment. Although only an associated country to Horizon 2020, Israel supplied the largest number of applicants for this round of EIC funding which closed in October. Switzerland, another associated country, accounted for the largest share of grant-only recipients, with nine Swiss companies receiving grant funding.

The blended finance recipients include S-Biomedic, a Belgian firm producing anti-acne cosmetics; Mybiotics Pharma, an Israeli business developing a system for delivery of personalised probiotics to prevent gut problems; and Orthox, a UK firm that uses silk to create medical implants for repairing cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis.

The equity investments range from €500 000 to €15 million each, with an average of €3.67 million. The exact size of each share purchase will be made public once the equity agreements have been signed.

The EIC will seek stakes of between 10 and 25% of the voting rights in each of the 39 companies and private investors will also have the option to put in their own money. The EIC will not get involved in determining the value of the companies receiving blended finance.

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A new business insight provided by Roger La Salle, innovation thought leader and pioneer of “Matrix Thinking”™

Why Innovate?
Research has shown that companies that fail to innovate fail to survive. It is essential that progressive companies embed innovation as a culture.

The 10% free time was a failure
Some years ago I was a Group Director of a very large company where we implemented 10% free time in an endeavour to achieve innovation outcomes. The idea was that people could put their feet up on the desk and do nothing more than think about innovation, for as much as 10% of their working week. Unsurprisingly, it was a complete failure.

Why? Because workers whose output was quantitatively measured just never had such freedom of time.

For more senior people whose metrics are more esoteric, the problem was that in these days of excessive time demands courtesy of e-mails and the like, most executives already work 60 or more hours per week just managing their jobs. Would you expect them to put their feet up on the desk to think innovatively for an extra 10% of their day, especially when innovation is not even a KPI? Of course not, this will never work.

Many ideas occur spontaneously – but don’t rely on serendipity
The real fact is that innovation and “opportunity capture” often occur at the most random of times whilst “on the job”. People just need to know what to look for and how to approach innovation with some simple opportunity capture tools and the mindset that nothing we do or sell today will be the same forever. There is always a better way. What is needed is a mechanism and tools to inspire people to be looking for better ways to open minds and most importantly to have a forum for expressing and developing ideas.

The methodology is simple and the outcomes assured as many that have implemented this approach can attest.

Embedding the Innovation Culture – Innovation needs to come from the top down – Management must be committed.

Emphasise the importance and use some simple examples such as:

  • KODAK – that was too slow in adapting to digital technology.
  • Swiss watches ignored the digital watch and allowed the Japanese to dominate.
  • MOTOROLA – were early cell phone providers but let Nokia, that was formerly in the timber industry, steal the market with their wonderful products.
  • Old fashioned air-blow hand dryers that were largely ineffective and were rendered obsolete overnight by Dyson.

Train your people

  • Train your people with the simple tools of innovation and opportunity capture.
  • Allow innovation time of perhaps 30 minutes per month for innovation circle meetings (if seen as appropriate, the 18 minute TED talk by Roger La Salle may assist staff. It can be found at:
  • Once trained, form Innovation Circles – typically two or three small teams.
  • Allow innovation time of perhaps 30 minutes per month for innovation circle meetings and mandate these meetings. These meetings can even be held at lunchtime with the boss providing the lunch.
  • Provide competition between circles.
  • Always evaluate and give feedback on ideas.
  • Reward and celebrate success, perhaps a night out for dinner or a weekend away with the winning team and their partners.

What’s the message?
“Innovate or Perish” and do so by engaging your people in formal innovation teams that are inspired to identify and develop new ideas. This is not rocket science; and it really does work.

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The European Parliament gave the green light to Ursula von der Leyen’s college of Commissioners at its session in Strasbourg on 27 November with a comfortable 461 votes in favour, 151 against and 89 abstentions. The new 27-member Commission – 12 women and 15 men – will finally be able to start work officially on 1 December 2019. Their start date had to be postponed by one month after the European Parliament had rejected the original candidates from France, Hungary and Romania. Replacement candidates were interviewed for their job by the European Parliament and approved in mid-November. The UK has declined to nominate a Commissioner on the grounds that they are not in a position to do so during the pre-election period.

Von der Leyen’s Commission will have three executive vice-presidents in Frans Timmermans, Margrethe Vestager and Valdis Dombrokvskis. They will also serve as regular Commissioners, not just coordinators. There will also be five regular vice-presidents: Josep Borrell, Věra Jourová, Margaritis Schinas, Maroš Šefčovič and Dubravka Šuica.

Interestingly, the Bulgarian Commissioner,  Mariya Gabriel, who will be responsible for the implementation of the new research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, has now had her official portfolio title extended to Research, Innovation, Education, Culture & Youth. The earlier version did not explicitly include “research” which had raised many an eyebrow in European R&D circles.

Another portfolio title which had caused controversy among MEPs was Margaritis Schinas’s “Protecting Our European Way of Life” covering migration affairs, culture and sport. Mrs von der Leyen bowed to continued pressure from parliamentarians, who considered that it reflected right-wing tendencies, and agreed to change the word “protecting” to “promoting”.

The flagship policy of Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission will no doubt be its European Green Deal, a blueprint of which is expected within its first 100 days in office. A centrepiece of this policy is for Europe to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and important components and enablers include the first European Climate Law, an extension of the Emissions Trading System (to include shipping and extend coverage of air traffic), a Carbon Border Tax, more emphasis on the Circular Economy, a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and last but not least a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan of €1 trillion.

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At a conference in Seville (E), the 22 member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed on 28 November to increase the agency’s funding over the next five years to €14.4 billion. The larger budget will go towards putting the first space station in orbit around the moon, with the aim of sending European astronauts there for the first time, as well as an anti-asteroid system, 5G satellites and a black-hole mission.

Germany became the largest financial contributor to ESA, with €3.3 billion, while France and Italy provide roughly 20% and 15% of the budget, respectively. The UK, which will remain a member after Brexit, also increased its share. Member states  decided to allocate more money than requested to Copernicus, the ESA’s earth-observation satellite system, which has proved useful in recent months to help track floods and forest fires. ESA Director-General Jan Wörner expressed his entire satisfaction at the 5-year budget increase which was more than he had requested.

The ESA boss also announced that his agency will look into launching a mission to retrieve defunct satellites, in order to prevent them from becoming potential hazards – of the 4 500 satellites in orbit, only 1 500 are currently active.

Wörner also told member countries that “we will send Europeans to the moon”, which will likely mean even stronger cooperation with NASA on the Lunar Gateway space station, an international project, and the planned Artemis mission, scheduled to blast off by 2024. Artemis aims to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972 and also put the first female astronaut on the lunar surface.

ESA is still trying to catch up on its US counterpart in terms of achievements and financial impact. NASA’s budget for 2019 was three times that of the European agency’s.
Next year will see ESA launch its Ariane-6 rocket, a reusable successor to its highly-successful Ariane-5 model. The entire rocket series has put roughly 50% of the world’s satellites into orbit. The newest iteration is intended to continue that trend by reducing costs and introducing recyclability into the mix, which is a direct reaction to the efforts of other space powers, like China, and private enterprises, like Tesla-founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

As part of its collaboration with NASA, ESA will continue to help develop a module for the next-generation Orion spacecraft, a successor to the now-retired space shuttle, as well as working on ‘Space Rider’, which is described as “ESA’s new reusable spaceship”.

The increased space budget comes just as the new European Commission takes office, with space policy expected to be granted more money under the EU’s next long-term budget. A dedicated department, combined with defence policy, has been set up by the Commission, to be headed by the French Commissioner Thierry Breton.

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A total of 287 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from 31 countries have been selected for funding under the last round of the EIC SME Instrument, in the so-called Phase 1 of the programme, now known as the EIC Accelerator. The companies will share €14.15 million of funding to help prepare their innovations for a faster market launch. This means that the 283 projects (more than one company can propose a project) will receive €50 000 to draft a business plan.  The companies will also receive free coaching and business acceleration services if they so wish.

The majority of the companies selected for funding in this latest round are in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), health and engineering. In terms of country breakdown, the largest number of applicants are based in Spain (48), Italy (30) and Switzerland (28). In total the European Commission received 3 299 proposals for the 5 September 2019 cut-off date, which was the last opportunity to apply for SME Instrument Phase I funding.

The EIC Accelerator Pilot builds on the SME Instrument Phase II and provides grant-only support as well as support in the form of blended finance (combining grant and equity). Under the EIC Accelerator, each project will receive a grant of €0.5 to €2.5 million and optional equity to bring their innovations to market. The EIC Pathfinder Pilot offers grants of up to €4 million to promote collaborative, inter-disciplinary research and innovation on science-inspired and radically new future technologies.

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