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When considering to apply to the ERC, PIs must be aware of the restrictions that may apply to them based on the outcome of previous submissions or – should their current application be rejected – on future submissions. Such penalties are essentially ‘blocking periods’ in which a PI cannot re-apply to the ERC. These blocking periods typically consist of 1 or 2 consecutive deadlines of the relevant ERC call, and are put in place to allow unsuccessful PIs the necessary time to develop a stronger proposal and/or strengthen their track records. In this article, we’ll thoroughly discuss how the ERC Blocking Mechanism works. Keep in mind – this article does not discuss rejection on the grounds of a breach of research integrity, which are typically more severe.

How does the ERC blocking mechanism work?

The ERC blocking mechanism applies to all ERC categories (Starting – StG, Consolidators – CoG and Advanced – AdG), as well as to the ERC Synergy Grant (SyG) as we will describe further below.
First, it is important to note that the year of an ERC call for proposals refers to the Work Programme year under which the call was published and not the calendar year of the deadline. A 2019 ERC call is one that was published under the 2019 ERC Work Programme, and this will be indicated in the call identifier (e.g. ERC-2019-StG). This is especially important in the context of the StG and SyG calls, which typically have deadlines in the end of the year preceding the work program year (i.e. ERC-2019-StG deadline was on Oct 2018).

A second important note is that the rules for these restrictions are officially published for each call when the Work Program of the relevant year is published. This means that restrictions/eligibility for the 2020 calls can – at this time – only be deduced based on the 2019 rules, assuming they will be the same. While the rules do remain comparable in recent years, it would be important to revisit the rules for each year when they are published.

To illustrate the blocking mechanism, let’s look into restrictions that will apply for PIs who currently have an active ERC grant or those that have applied to the ERC 2017 and/or 2018 StG/CoG/AdG calls and were rejected. Researchers who did not apply to these calls in 2017/2018 and do not have an active ERC grant, may apply to the ERC 2019/2020 calls with no restrictions (considering all other eligibility criteria).

Researchers with an active ERC grant are restricted because a researcher may participate as PI in only one ERC project at a time. The “2 years or less” rule (counted with reference to the call deadline to which they want to apply) allows for enough time for the current grant to end before the potential new grant can begin.

For rejected StG/CoG/AdG applications, the general rule is that a score C in the first stage of evaluation implies a restriction for two consecutive deadlines and a score B implies a restriction of one consecutive deadline. Proposals that pass to the second stage of evaluation are not followed by such restrictions. Notably, the restrictions apply across categories (e.g. a rejected StG application may imply restrictions even if the PI must now apply to the CoG call). Additionally, restrictions are on a personal-basis, so they apply to the PI, not the project.

ERC blocking mechanism

(*) 2 years or less to finalizing the current project, with respect to the relevant call deadline.
As you can see from the diagram above, the restrictions related to the ERC Synergy call are slightly different than those related to the personal ERC calls. Let’s take a closer look into these restrictions in the following diagram. Keep in mind that the penalties in the case of ERC Synergy will apply to all participating PIs.

blocking mechanism

As can be seen in this diagram, score C in step 1 of the evaluation has a relatively severe penalty to all participating PIs. Score B in stage 1 or stage 2 will mean one blocking period for the SyG call only.

Our recommendation is therefore to bare these restrictions in mind and:

  1. Make sure you are indeed eligible to apply and no restrictions apply to you based on previous submissions.
  2. Carefully and honestly assess whether you are applying with a competitive proposal, taking into account the potential restrictions in case the application is rejected.

A note about submitting two ERC applications on the same WP year

Only the first eligible application is evaluated, which means there is no point in working on two applications on the same Work program year.

This is relevant for applicants that wish to be part of a SyG application and submit an individual (StG, CoG or AdG) grant themselves. Though this is not directly related to the blocking mechanism, it is important in this context in order to avoid potential disqualifications of more than one application that was submitted in the same WP year.

If you need any more assistance with your ERC application, we offer a free Go/No-Go service, as well as additional ERC consulting services (Standard or Deep Dive) to guide you through the application process.