When considering to apply to the ERC, PIs must both 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. Such restrictions are put in place to deter applicants from submitting non-competitive proposals and overburdening the evaluation system, but also 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.
An overview of the ERC blocking mechanism
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), which 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 2020 ERC call is one that was published under the 2020 ERC Work Programme, and this will be indicated in the call identifier (e.g. ERC-2020-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-2020-StG deadline was on Oct 2019).
Specifically for 2021, as the transition year between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, the opening and closing dates of the individual calls are expected to shift so that the first calls are launched in January 2021.
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 2021 calls can, at this time, only be deduced based on the 2020 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.
How does the ERC blocking mechanism work?
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 2018 and/or 2019 StG/CoG/AdG/SyG calls and were rejected. Researchers who did not apply to these calls in 2018 or 2019 and do not have an active ERC grant, may apply to the ERC 2020 calls with no restrictions (considering all other eligibility criteria). Accordingly, if applicants applied to one of the 2020 calls, their eligibility to apply to the 2021 calls will likely be affected by the outcome of the evaluation.
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.
The following figure illustrates the possible restrictions for the personal categories in 2020 and 2021 considering the outcomes of the 2018/2019 calls. Naturally, if applicants have submitted to one of the calls in 2020, eligibility to the 2021 calls may be affected, pending on the outcome.
(*) 2 years or less to finalizing the current project, with respect to the relevant call deadline.
Unique ERC Synergy restrictions
We’ve discussed restrictions resulting from, and related to the personal ERC categories. Now let’s discuss the restrictions related to the ERC Synergy call which are slightly different. It is important to note that according to the ERC scientific council’s recent announcement, the Synergy Grant is likely to be excluded from the ERC 2021 Work Programme, and will probably be included again in the Work Programme 2022.
First, restrictions only apply for PIs who were part of an application which was rejected in the first stage of evaluation. If the proposal passed to the second and third stages, no restrictions apply. Second, restrictions only apply to resubmission to the consecutive SyG calls and for the AdG call for the Advanced synergy group members. Specifically, score C in step 1 of the evaluation applies a restriction on applications to SyG and AdG calls, for two consecutive work programs. Score B in stage 1 means one blocking period for the SyG call only.
*Considering no restrictions apply from the outcomes of other ERC calls.
Our recommendation is therefore to bare these restrictions in mind and:
- Make sure you are indeed eligible to apply and no restrictions apply to you based on previous submissions.
- 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.