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Call: European Network of AI Excellence Centres: Pillars of the European AI lighthouse

Acronym HE-CL4-HUMAN
Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 4 - Destination 6: A Human-centred and Ethical Development of Digital and Industrial Technologies"

This destination will directly support the following Key Strategic Orientations, as outlined in the Strategic Plan:

  • KSO D, Creating a more resilient, inclusive and democratic European society, prepared and responsive to threats and disasters, addressing inequalities and providing high-quality health care, and empowering all citizens to act in the green and digital transitions

Proposals for topics under this Destination should set out a credible pathway contributing to the following expected impact:

  • A human-centred and ethical development of digital and industrial technologies, through a two-way engagement in the development of technologies, empowering end-users and workers, and supporting social innovation.

As Europe takes the lead in the green and digital transitions, workers, regions, and societies are faced with extremely fast transformations, and will be differently affected by these changes. The rapid adoption of new technologies offers an immense potential for improved standards of living, safer mobility, better healthcare, new jobs, or the personalisation of public services. At the same time, it presents risks such as skills mismatches, digital divides, customer lock-in, or serious breaches of security or privacy.

As Europe sets off on its path to recovery towards a greener, digital and more resilient economy and society, the need to improve and adapt skills, knowledge and competences becomes all the more important. Developments in digital and enabling technologies have the potential to enhance social inclusion, can inform up-skilling training programmes and ensure a two-way engagement with society with regard to developing technologies.

The issue of trust has become central in the use of technologies, following revelations about the exploitation of personal data, large-scale cybersecurity and data breaches, and growing awareness of online disinformation. As outlined in the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (COM(2020)65), for AI technologies, trust requires in particular improving transparency (explainability, expected levels of performance). For the Internet, increasing trust requires new tools and services to ensure that GDPR is a reality for end-users.

It is also an opportunity for Europe to re-gain presence on the consumer electronics market, by developing new interactive applications in various sectors with solutions meeting European values and requirements in terms of privacy and security. The COVID-19 crisis has also shown how important distance and innovative learning is for society.

Actions under this Destination will support EU objectives of inclusiveness, by supporting a human-centred approach to technology development that is aligned with European social and ethical values, as well as sustainability. These actions will further contribute to addressing the challenges faced by European industry and support the creation of sustainable, high-quality jobs by targeting skills mismatches, the need to empower workers, and ethical considerations relating to technological progress.

Actions should devote particular attention to openness of the solutions and results, and transparency of the research process. To ensure trustworthiness, public awareness and support, wide adoption by user communities for the benefit of society, actions should promote the highest standards of transparency and openness. Actions should ensure that the processes and outcomes of research and innovation align with the needs, values and expectations of society, in line with Responsible Research and Innovation.

This Destination is structured into the following headings, which group topics together with similar outcomes to address a common challenge:

Leadership in AI based on trust

The objective of this heading is to ensure autonomy for Europe in AI, leading the way in research, development and deployment of world-class technologies that are beneficial to humans individually, organisationally and societally, and that adheres to European values, such as the principles reflected in our fundamental rights and environmental sustainability. Technologies need to be developed that industries and citizens will trust, so and that they could be applied in a wide range of applications and industrial sectors. Trustworthy AI is particularly key in applications such as (but not limited to) healthcare or in diverse critical infrastructures such as energy and transportation.

Some topics of this heading are under the co-programmed Partnership ‘AI, Data and Robotics’.

Proposals are encouraged to link with relevant European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and its Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), in particular the EIT Digital.

EIT Digital plays role in shaping technologies and innovations that work for people. At least two of its focus areas, Digital Wellbeing and Digital Cities, address directly topics such as ethical artificial intelligence, predictive analytics or augmented and virtual reality that are relevant to this areas. The solutions will benefit from the increasing will of citizens to participate in the sharing economy. EIT Digital, through projects with cities for example, improves engagement and inclusiveness of the citizens and of the visitors by increasingly organising and exposing data, especially in real time and along with analytics and machine learning. Augmented and virtual reality of the cities are another facet of exposing or simulating city data from the past, present or future to the benefit of citizens. ​

An Internet of Trust

The issue of trust in the internet has become central, following revelations about the exploitation of personal data, large-scale cybersecurity and data breaches, and growing awareness of online disinformation. A 2019 survey[[]] shows that half of the global internet users are more concerned about their online privacy compared to a year previously. Distrust in the Internet is causing people to change the way they behave online, for example by disclosing less personal information. Users also express an increasing level of distrust of social media platforms.

The objective of this heading is to develop a trustworthy digital environment, built on a more resilient, sustainable, and decentralised internet, to empower end-users with more control over their data and their digital identity, and to enable new social and business models respecting European values.

eXtended Reality (XR)

Due to its low presence in the consumer electronics industry, Europe is increasingly dependent on external providers in this area. This raises concerns about its digital sovereignty in crucial domains such as digital interaction services that are being adopted by a growing number of European users and industries. The COVID-19 crisis has shown how important distance and innovative learning is for society, our children, their parents and their teachers, maintaining social and educational links under challenging circumstances. Emerging technologies such as virtual reality, eXtended Reality or immersive environments provide numerous opportunities for personalised, innovative, efficient and inclusive learning, for learners of all ages, gender and condition

The objective of this heading is to gain industrial leadership in eXtended Reality technologies and immersive environments, while ensuring the European values of privacy, ethics and inclusiveness. It also aims to support the digital transformation of education through these technologies in particular.

Systemic approaches to make the most of the technologies within society and industry.

This heading promotes various systemic approaches to encourage creativity and make the most of the technologies developed elsewhere within society and industry. They include testing ideas in local communities; support for IP, standardisation and industry-academia exchanges; art-driven design; and assessments of complex socio-economic systems. These are complemented by support for a network of National Contact Points (NCPs), with a special emphasis on engaging with new actors.

Activities beyond R&I investments will be needed to realise the expected impacts: testing, experimentation, demonstration, and support for take-up using the capacities, infrastructures, and European Digital Innovation Hubs made available under the Digital Europe Programme; further development of skills and competencies via the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, in particular EIT Digital and EIT Manufacturing; upscaling of trainings via the European Social Fund +; use of financial instruments under the InvestEU Fund for further commercialisation of R&I outcomes; and links to the thematic smart specialisation platform on industrial modernisation

Expected impact

Proposals for topics under this Destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to a human-centred and ethical development of digital and industrial technologies, and more specifically to one or several of the following impacts:

  • Increased inclusiveness, by supporting a human-centred approach to technology development that is aligned with European social and ethical values, as well as sustainability;
  • Sustainable, high-quality jobs by targeting skills mismatches, the need to empower workers, and ethical considerations relating to technological progress[[2019 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust]].
Link Link to Programme
European Network of AI Excellence Centres: Pillars of the European AI lighthouse
Description of call
"European Network of AI Excellence Centres: Pillars of the European AI lighthouse"

Expected Outcome:

Proposal results are expected to contribute to the following expected outcomes:

  • Establishing a new pillar of the European AI lighthouse
  • Reinforcing a leading unified European AI community
  • Scientific progress in AI, addressing major challenges hampering its deployment.


To ensure European open strategic autonomy in critical technologies such as AI, with huge socio-economic impact, it is essential to reinforce and build on Europe’s assets in such technologies, including its world-class research community, in order to stay at the forefront of technological developments.

Europe has undeniable strengths with its many leading research centres, but the efforts are scattered.

As stated in the communication from the European Commission on Artificial Intelligence for Europe and the coordinated action plan between the European Commission and the Member States and Associated Countries, joining forces will be crucial for international competitiveness. Europe has to scale up existing research capacities and reach a critical mass through tighter networks of European AI excellence centres. The proposals should develop mechanisms to reinforce and network excellence centres in AI, bringing the best scientists from academia and industry to join forces in addressing the major AI challenges hampering its deployment; therefore, reinforcing excellence through collaboration in AI throughout Europe.

Such networks are expected to mobilise researchers to collaborate on key AI research challenges and to progress faster in joined efforts rather than working in silos, leading to fragmented and duplicated efforts. Such networks, are essential to reach critical mass and overcome the present fragmentation of AI research in Europe.

To complement and extend the initiative started in H2020 to develop a vibrant European network of AI excellence centres, and a vibrant AI scientific community, the proposals should create a network of excellence for the following topic:

Safe and secure AI addressing safety and security by design: foster the collaboration between AI with safety engineering communities, security, cybersecurity and related communities, to develop safe-by-design and secure-by-design AI, data and robotics systems, contributing to safety and security of citizens and any users of such AI-powered systems. The focus is on research, but the work should also contribute to good practices, standards and certification, complying with regulations for AI safety and protection of fundamental rights.

Topics to be covered include, but are not limited to:

  • Technical robustness and safety, incl. methods for evaluating the resilience of systems, and standardized ways of quantifying robustness of AI
  • Privacy preserving techniques and infrastructures
  • Human agency and oversight in terms of system security and safety; including explainability in human-readable terms allowing to detect/prevent/mitigate/recover from harm and threats.

Proposals will bring together the best European research teams around AI to join forces and address major technical as well as sector- or societal-driven challenges in strengthening excellence, networking, multidisciplinarity and developing academia-industry synergies, as relevant.

Composition of the Network:

  • It should be driven by leading researchers in AI and AI relevant technologies from major excellent AI research centres, and bringing the best scientists across Europe, including also from promising research labs. It will bring on board the necessary level of expertise and variety of disciplines and profiles to achieve their objectives, ensuring a multidisciplinarity and multi-sectorial research approach, while respecting equality and diversity among the attracted talents.

Activities of the Network:

  • In order to structure the activities, the proposals will focus on important scientific or technological challenges with industrial and societal relevance where Europe will make a difference, by building on strengths, or strengthening knowledge to fill gaps critical for Europe.
  • Based on the identified challenges, the proposals will develop and implement common research agendas. The main vision and roadmap with targets within the projects, as well as methodology to implement and monitor progress will have to be specified in the proposal and can be further developed during the project.
  • Scientific progress will have to be demonstrated through testing on application specific datasets or use-cases. By extending the benchmarking of foundational research to application specific areas, the research community will simultaneously address advancements in AI and grand societal and technological challenges.
  • The proposals should define mechanisms to foster excellence throughout Europe, to increase efficiency of collaboration, including through networking and exchange programmes, and to develop a vibrant AI network in Europe.
  • The network will disseminate the latest and most advanced knowledge to all the academic and industrial AI laboratories in Europe and involving them in collaborative projects/exchange programmes. (This could involve projects defined initially or via financial support to third parties, for maximum 20% of the requested EU contribution, with a maximum of 60k€ per third party).
  • The network will develop, where relevant, interactions with the industry, in view of triggering new scientific questions and fostering take-up of scientific advances
  • The network will develop collaboration with the relevant Digital innovation Hubs, World-class reference testing facilities, AI regulatory sandboxes and AI start-up initiatives, to disseminate knowledge and tools, and understand their needs.
  • The network should also foster innovation and include mechanisms to exploit new ideas coming out of the network’s work (for instance via incubators, start-up and spinoff initiatives and university tech-transfer funds).
  • Overall, each proposal will define mechanisms to become a virtual centre of excellence, offering access to knowledge and serve as a reference in their chosen specific field, including activities to ensure visibility.

The proposals should:

  • include mechanisms to spread the latest and most advanced knowledge to all the AI-labs in Europe
  • develop synergies and cross-fertilization between industry and academia
  • become a common resource and shared facility, as a virtual laboratory offering access to knowledge and expertise and attracting talents
  • provide broad access to AI excellence in Europe and also play an important role in increasing visibility
  • provide access to the required resources and infrastructure to support the R&D activities of the action, such as cloud and computing capacity, IoT, robotics equipment, support staff and engineers, where relevant, and the capacity to develop prototypes, pilots, demonstrators, etc.
  • include a number of major scientific and application challenges which will mobilise the community to join forces in addressing them. Continuous evaluation and demonstration of scientific and technological progress (with qualitative and quantitative KPIs, benchmarking and progress monitoring processes) towards solving the targeted challenges will motivate the entire network and support publications and scientific career developments (providing reference benchmarks to publish comparative results, using the reference data, scenarios, etc.), and also showcase the technology in application contexts, to attract more user industries and eventually foster take up and adoption of the technology.
  • include mechanisms to share resources, knowledge, tools, modules, software, results, expertise, and make equipment/infrastructure available to scientists to optimise the scientific and technological progress. To that end, proposals should exploit tools such as the AI-on-demand platform and further develop and expand the platform, to support the network and sharing of resource, results, tools among the scientific community, maximising re-use of results, and supporting faster progress. Mechanisms to test results and continuously measure and demonstrate progress should be integrated in the platform, which is also important to support the scientific community, allowing also for comparative analysis. Openness and interoperability of components are encouraged to develop synergies and cross-fertilization between different approaches and solutions (e.g. through modularity of components or open interfaces).
  • include collaboration mechanisms among the best AI and AI-relevant research teams, but also mechanisms to bring all European AI teams to the highest level of excellence. This is also in view of supporting and encouraging the adoption of AI technologies in all Member States and Associated Countries, with particular emphasis on geographical aspect and elimination of gaps in digital competences and access between Member States and Associated Countries, as well as addressing existing gender disparities.
  • exploit and develop technology enablers, such as methodologies, tools and systems and exploit latest hardware development and data spaces, cloud and HPC resources.

Activities are expected to achieve TRL 4-5 by the end of the project.

Proposals are expected to develop synergies:

  • With other Networks of excellence centres in AI funded in H2020 or Horizon Europe, with a view of, all together, create vibrant European network of AI excellence centres. To that end, the activities should integrate with and complement the activities of the H2020-ICT-48 projects. The proposals are expected to dedicate tasks to ensure this coherence.
  • With relevant activities in AI, Data and Robotics, primarily in destinations 3, 4 and 6, but also in other destinations and clusters (in particular with cluster 3 regarding security-related activities), and share or exploit results where appropriate.

All proposals are expected to allocate tasks to cohesion activities with the PPP on AI, Data and Robotics and funded actions related to this partnership, including the CSA HORIZON-CL4-2021-HUMAN-01-02.


The network of excellence centres on AI safety and security will contribute to the larger objective of the European Commission to establish the European AI lighthouse.

The AI lighthouse is expected to mobilise the AI community to collaborate on key AI research challenges and to progress faster in joined efforts rather than working in silos, leading to fragmented and duplicated efforts. This is essential to reach critical mass and overcome the present fragmentation of AI research in Europe.

The lighthouse will bring together stakeholders from research, innovation and deployment, to become a world reference in AI that can attract investments and the best talents in the field. The lighthouse will build on key pillars, each of them being a network of excellence centres specialising in a given topic where Europe has the potential to become a global champion. The initiative started with the H2020-ICT-48 call establishing the first networks of excellence centres and will further develop in Horizon Europe.

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Digitisation, ICT, Telecommunication, Consumer Protection, Disaster Prevention, Resiliance, Risk Management
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Research Institution, International Organization, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), NGO / NPO, Public Services, Other, Start Up Company, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined)
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit - Part B: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of between EUR 2.00 and 3.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 17.00 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%

Beneficiaries may provide financial support to third parties. The support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants. The maximum amount to be granted to each third party is EUR 60 000.

Activities are expected to start at TRL 2 and achieve TRL 4 by the end of the project.

Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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