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European Court of Auditors’ special report on Horizon 2020

In a recently published special report, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has assessed the simplification measures taken by the European Commission (EC), to see to what extent such measures have proved effective in reducing the administrative burden of Horizon 2020 beneficiaries and if they mirrored the evaluations and feedback proposed by the stakeholders. In order to answer this question, the ECA has surveyed the programme’s beneficiaries.

An online survey was sent in February 2018 to 32 918 contacts from 20 797 organisations which were granted Horizon 2020 funding. The survey covered the period from the start of the programme in 2014 to January 2018 and comprised 59 questions. Drawing from the 3 598 replies received, ECA noted that, overall, most of the simplification measures taken by the EC have been effective in reducing the administrative burden for Horizon 2020 beneficiaries, although not all actions produced the desired result and there is still room for improvement. As reported by the respondents, there is a widespread need for more user-friendly guidance and tools as well as for further testing of the appropriateness and usability of new funding schemes. More specifically, the ECA put forward the following observations:

  • beneficiaries appreciate the communication and feedback channels but some still report inconsistent treatment and varying levels of service;
  • the Participant Portal simplifies grant management for beneficiaries;
  • Commission guidance (AMGA) is comprehensive but difficult to use and frequent changes have led to uncertainty;
  • new initiatives with potential for simplification have not yet been fully tested and evaluated;
  • obtaining a grant is faster but opportunities to reduce administrative burden have not been fully exploited;
  • withdrawal of negotiation stage has speeded up the time to grant;
  • wider use of the two-stage approach could reduce costs for the large number of unsuccessful applicants;
  • concerns remain about the quality of evaluations and feedback to unsuccessful applicants;
  • the Seal of Excellence has not met expectations;
  • the rules on personnel costs were simplified, but some changes have created difficulties for beneficiaries and personnel costs remain principal major source of error;
  • the audit burden has decreased but beneficiaries face inconsistent treatment in outsourced ex post audits;
  • SME participation has increased but barriers remain. 

Consequently, the ECA provides a set of eight recommendations in order to tackle these problems in the future, some of which relate to improved communication channels of the EC, wider use of two-stage proposal evaluations and stability for rules and guidance for participants. More information can be found in the ECA report.

Link to the report