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Horizon’s open access publishing platform and discussions on how to work with open access beyond EU

While the negotiations on the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and, subsequently, Horizon Europe’s budget have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 situation, the activities in open science, one of Horizon Europe’s most praised aspects, are well under way. The most prominent current news is awarding the contract to the company F100 for setting up an open access publishing platform. According to the European Commission, the platform will be a peer-reviewed publishing service to support Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe beneficiaries to publish their research in open access free of charge (i.e. without article fees), if they so wish, during their project or after it has ended. Its official launch is planned for early 2021 and it will be accepting submissions from as of autumn 2020. Some of the exciting novelties include the open peer-review and post-publication curation of the articles.

The question remains how will open access work with the institutions who are not beneficiaries of EU’s framework programmes and those outside of Europe? Contradictory options are on the table. In November 2019 Jean-Claude Burgelman, the European Commission’s open access envoy and a member of Coalition S Executive Steering Group, said in a personal capacity that an interim solution could be a “geo-specific access model”. It would charge access fees for organisations coming from countries which do not have such policies in place thereby forcing other parts of the world to move towards open access. This idea was criticised on the grounds that it would de-facto prevent researchers from the global south to access articles and thereby contribute to the ever-increasing gap in global research.

A slightly different proposal came from another member of Coalition S, professor Johan Rooryck. He proposes to link the article processing charges (APC) or publication fees to a country’s purchasing power parity (PPP), a measure of what an average citizen can buy. Traditional subscriptions to closed journals was often in practice adapted to PPP where low- and middle-income countries paid less that Europe and the US. This is still not the case with open access journals and discussions on various models are on under way. Other practices include issuing of waivers to researchers in lower-income countries, a practice seen as “patronising” by the beneficiaries. Coalition S is still not considering making APC pricing by PPP a condition for journals to publish and are yet to open a debate with the big publishers on this issue.

Half of the world’s research is published by five companies: RELX (previously Reed Elsevier), Springer, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell and the American Chemical Society. While they are making enormous profits with their business model which relies on high subscription fees, there has been a strong backlash in the recent years. Coalition S is the most vocal initiative for open access publishing at the moment and very much in line with a more general open access approach in Horizon 2020 and, further developed, in Horizon Europe. As a response, big publishers are looking into new business models such as those of Elsevier which would grant open access to its journals but in an exchange for metadata. Other strategy is to buy innovative open access companies such as F100 which was bought by Taylor and Francis Group in January 2020 to expand its open-research services and Plan-S compliant platforms.

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