European Defence Fund 2021: € 1.2 billion in EU funding for collaborative defence R&D projects

On Wednesday, June 30, the European Commission adopted the first European Defence Fund (EDF) annual work programme, paving the way for 23 calls for proposals totalling € 1.2 billion of EU funding in support of collaborative defence research and development projects.

The 2021 EDF work programme will incentivise and support capability development and standardisation projects in order to reduce fragmentation of EU defence capabilities and enhance competitiveness of EU defence industry and interoperability of products and technologies.

2021 EDF work programme

The 2021 EDF work programme will co-finance large-scale projects across the following four categories:

  1. Preparation of large-scale and complex defence platforms and systems such as next generation fighter systems or ground vehicles, fleet, digital and modular ships, and ballistic missile defence (€ 700 million);
  2. Critical technologies enhancing the performance and resilience of defence equipment such as artificial intelligence and cloud for military operations, semiconductors in the field of infrared and radiofrequency components (€ 100 million);
  3. Synergies with other civilian EU policies and programmes in order to foster cross-fertilisation, enabling the entry of new players and reducing technological dependencies in the fields of space (€ 50 million), medical response (70 million) or digital and cyber (€ 100 million).
  4. SMEs and start-ups focussing on disruptive technologies such as quantum technologies, additive manufacturing and over the horizon radar (€ 120 million).

Calls for proposals

As part of the 2021 work programme, 23 calls for proposals will constitute 12 calls targeting research projects, including disruptive research, and 11 calls targeting development projects. In this regard, the following calls will be opened:

  • 19 thematic calls addressing thirteen EDF categories of actions out of the 15 defined in the work programme;
  • One thematic call addressing research for identified disruptive technologies for defence applications;
  • Three open calls among which one addressing disruptive technologies and two addressing SMEs as mentioned in the EDF Regulation in order to encourage further participation of SMEs.

At present, the European Commission has published more than 35 forthcoming single-stage grants with broad thematic coverage of promising topics. More grants will be published on the Funding and Tenders Portal in the next weeks.

Funding rates

Applicable baseline funding rates are up to 100% of eligible costs for research projects and up to 90% of eligible costs for development projects. Furthermore, additional percentage points (bonus) to the baseline funding rate for development projects may be allocated if (1) a project is developed in the context of a project of the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), (2) a proportion of eligible costs is allocated to SMEs established in the EU or associated countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or (3) a proportion of eligible costs is allocated to Mid-caps established in the EU or associated countries.

General conditions for proposals

Proposals submitted to EDF calls must focus on one of the following two project strands:

  • Collaborative research that could significantly boost the performance of future capabilities throughout the Union, aiming to maximise innovation and introducing new defence products and technologies, including disruptive technologies for defence;
  • Collaborative development of defence products and technologies, achieving greater economies of scale, reducing the risk of unnecessary duplication and fostering the market uptake of European defence products and technologies, ultimately leading to an increase in the standardisation of defence systems and greater interoperability between Member States’ capabilities.

Consortium requirements

European cooperation between project partners is particularly important. Applicants must set up a consortium and appoint a coordinator. In general, only collaborative projects are eligible, with at least 3 participants from at least 3 different Member States or associated countries. For disruptive technologies, eligible projects should include at least 2 participants from at least 2 Member States.


The duration of proposed projects should not exceed four years. However, proposed projects exceeding this duration can be submitted but should be justified and substantiated against the content and objectives of the proposed project.

Evaluation procedure

The European Commission evaluates all proposals by performing the following assessments:

  1. Admissibility: determining if the received proposals meet the admissibility conditions;
  2. Exclusion: determining if all applicants and linked third parties of admissible proposals fall under exclusion grounds;
  3. Eligibility: assessing if the proposals meet all eligibility criteria;
  4. Ethics: the ethics screening of all the proposals based on the Ethics Issues Table is a filtering step designed to identify the proposals that potentially pose complex ethical issues and that need to be further reviewed in the ethics assessment;
  5. Selection: assessing compliance of applicants and affiliated entities with the selection criteria including financial and operational capacity;
  6. Award: the Commission, assisted by independent experts, will assess the proposals against the award criteria, determining a score for each proposal answering the call.

Indicative timeline from application submission to signing grant agreements

If applications are submitted in time, applicants may receive the results of the evaluation procedure as early as six months from the final date for submission. Grant agreements may be signed as early as three months from the date successful applicants are informed.

Questions about the EDF 2021 work programme?

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