The state of Open Access in Europe – Horizon 2020

The conclusion of our State of Open Access in Europe series (see the first and the second post here) is a piece on a vitally important EU legislation – Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 is a €80 billion heavy EU programme for research and innovation. In Brussels, they call it a flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. A natural question that arises when considering such an enormous fund is – will the end results of that funding be Open Access? Since Horizon 2020 is still in the works, so to say (it has to pass numerous steps before being implemented, including a vote in the European Parliament), it is important to stay informed and possibly take part in the public discussion that follows such a grand project.

When Chris Noone and I attended the Right to Research meeting in Budapest almost two months ago, one thing become obviously clear to us as students coming from Europe. Unlike our American counterparts, our student organizations (even international ones like EFPSA), and us personally as students, were much less involved in public discussion of policy, or actually participation in the decision making process, on the EU level. The American student organizations at our Budapest meeting were highly involved in the decision making on the federal level, where such decisions had consequences on their studies and lives. Us as students knew a lot about national level policies and practices in research and Open Access, but the EU level legislation and possible future plans were a great unknown.

I’d go as far to say, in my observation, that US federal-level student organizations are there to lobby and represents students in a distinctly federal context. On this side of the pond, where the collective (European) identity is much less exhibited and the tradition of political representation and organization among students on such a high level is relatively underdeveloped in certain aspects, our international organizations are oriented toward our members — not to outward representation toward ‘federal’ (in the American dictionary) institutions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something that has to be taken into account when we approach EU wide processes and try to take part in them. To this end, I am writing this post – in an attempt to bring a piece of EU legislation closer to students in Europe. In a way, to get us involved, at least on a discussion level, in something that is currently happening and will have a huge impact on how we do research in the European Union, and by extension, in Europe.

The possibility of research funded through Horizon 2020 being Open Access is, from a current perspective, high. The media buzz surrounding this massive €80 EU wide research framework can be interpret to state that the EU is following suit after the strong legislation from the UK and the US in the same vein – thus enabling OA for research funded through Horizon 2020. It goes as far as a EU official saying, in an interview for Times Higher Education, “that for researchers receiving funding from its programme between 2014 and 2020, open-access publishing ‘will be the norm.'” In the same interview they mentioned how, unlike the Finch Report suggestions in the UK which mostly focused on gold open access, Horizon 2020 would endorse both the green and the gold route. The embargo periods they mention, for access through archiving, are the standard 6 months, and 12 months for social sciences and the humanities.

This is, of course, a huge step forward. In the funding framework that’s currently in effect (Framework Programme 7, or FP7), only seven areas are Open Access (about 20% of the total budget). FP7 also included the OpenAIRE project – a central repository facilitating the implementation of green OA archiving within the funding framework. With Horizon 2020, the pilot 20% from FP7 would expand to all peer-reviewed research from particle physics to social sciences, as Elizabeth Gibney at Times Higher Education puts it. Tim Gowers, one of the leaders of the Elsevier Boycott and a professor at the University of Cambridge comments that the biggest effect of such a framework would be symbolic. If the EU put forward such a model where all funded research is Open Access, it would be a strong incentive and encouragement for national and other funds throughout Europe to follow this new development. In a way, Horizon 2020 would make it an informal standard of funding research.

So far, this paints a pink story for Open Access in Europe – with Horizon 2020 enabling a strong OA environment and being the formal and informal standard for funding agencies and governments, and at the same time ensuring €80 billion of EU money would not end behind a corporate paywall.

However, the proposal still has to get to the European Parliament, and is still suspect to lobbying from both sides in Brussels – the OA advocates from the academia and, on the other side, the publishers. The question remains – will Horizon 2020 endorse green open access or gold open access, and what will be the actual mechanic of enabling it? How long will the embargo periods be (shorter embargo periods are being suggested from within the OA community, while publishers like Elsevier and Springer are strongly resisting such proposals)?

The initiative from within the EU on Horizon 2020 is encouraging, but the actual legislation is still far from implementation or its final look. There’s still much room to water it down, change it in embargo periods or diminish its scope in other ways. It’s a push-me-pull-me game between stakeholders (primarily the research community on one side and the publishers on the other), each trying to bend the future look of Horizon 2020 to their own liking.

The question I really wanted to ask was – what can we as students do about it?

Hopefully, in the months to come, we will have suggestions to involve ourselves more actively in this public discussion – for in the end, the students are the most numerous part of the academic community. This just might be the perfect time for us to start thinking about translating our numbers into actual influence.

*I would like to thank Janna Wellander from SPARC Europe for helping us with research on the topics we covered in our State of Open Access in Europe series. Keep yourselves informed on OA topics by following the SPARC Europe feed on Twitter.


Ivan Flis is a graduate student of psychology at the Center for Croatian Studies at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of European Psychology Students (JEPS) and the Chair of the Right to Research Coalition Coordinating Committee for Africa, Europe and Middle East.

About the author

Ivan Flis Ivan Flis is a PhD student in History and Philosophy of Science at the Descartes Centre, Utrecht University; and has a degree in psychology from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. His research focuses on quantitative methodology in psychology, its history and application, and its relation to theory construction in psychological research. He had been an editor of JEPS for three years in the previous mandates.

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