FAQ: Preparing for a successful Horizon 2020 application

Published: 20 September 2016

Applying for subsidies within the Horizon 2020 programme requires some background knowledge. From PIC codes to knowing your way around the ECAS portal, a suitable preparation pays off. Based on our experience as a professional grant writing partner and the issues our clients face, we answer several frequently asked questions to ensure a smooth road to your next successful Horizon 2020 application. Is there any specific question you want answered? Let us know, and we will update this section.

Please take note that the European Commission also has an extensive Horizon 2020 Frequently Asked Questions database available.

How do I create an ECAS account?

ECAS is the European Commission Authentication Service, providing access to the Commission information systems with a single username and password. With your ECAS account, you can download proposal templates, prepare proposal submissions, download review results and manage ongoing projects. Creating an account is very easy. Visit the Participant Portal of the European Commission. Click the ‘register’ button on the top right of the page.  Make sure you have selected the External domain, meant for partners, researchers and citizens. If in doubt, press the ‘Help for external users’ link on the top of the page.

A more extensive guide to creating an ECAS account can be found here.

What is a PIC code?

The PIC code is your Participant Identification Code. To be able to coordinate a project proposal, or participate in a project proposal, you need to register your organisation. The PIC code is a unique nine-digit Participant Identification Code that is used to identify organisations (e.g. an academic institute or SME). The PIC code can be used for all future communication and interactions with the European Commission and its agencies. The use of the PIC code for each organisation helps to avoid redundant requests for information and facilitates the effort to keep participant-related information up-to-date.

How do I obtain a PIC code?

Most large universities and research institutions are already registered, as are all other organisations that have previously participated in an FP6, FP7 or Horizon 2020 project proposal. It is very easy to find a PIC code of an organisation using the search tool on this webpage. Enter the organisation name, copy the captcha code and press search! This will return a list with information, including the PIC code. Make sure you select the right organisation, by double-checking the legal name and VAT identification number.

If your organisation does not yet have a PIC code, you can obtain one by pressing the button ‘register organisation’ at this webpage and logging in to the ECAS portal. The Registration Wizard will guide you through the process of registration, which should take about 5-10 minutes to complete. In addition, a very clear H2020 Online Manual is available here, with all the information you need to register. After, you can find all your information back in the ECAS portal, under ‘My Organisations’.

Please take note that different departments belonging to the same organisation must use the same PIC code.

A more extensive guide to obtaining a PIC code can be found here.

How do I complete the SME Self-Assessment?

Several Horizon 2020 funding opportunities are only open for Small or Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). If you are an SME, you must submit key data on your organisation which will be validated by the Validation Service team of the European Commission.

To determine whether your organisation qualifies as an SME according to the EU Recommendation 2003/361/EC, you need to perform the SME Self-Assessment questionnaire. The system will ask you about shareholders and other legal relationships. It will also ask you to enter the latest financial accounts, including total annual balance sheet, annual turnover, currency used, staff headcount and date of closure of the financial period.

Login to the ECAS portal and go to ‘My Organisations’. Select the red ‘MO’ button (for modify organisation) to open the Beneficiary Register Data Update Panel. Scroll down to the ‘SME’, where you will find the ‘Start SME Self-Assessment’ button. Make sure that you do not only save the draft, the SME Self-Assessment is only completed upon submitting the information. Do not forget to also enter the SME Self-Declaration in the Beneficiary Register Data Update Panel. You will find this just below the ‘Start SME Self-Assessment’ button.

Be aware that the SME Self-Assessment needs to be renewed every two years. Make sure to click on the button ‘Update your data’ in order to send the results back to the system.

If you are not an SME, you do not have to complete the SME Self-Assessment.

A more extensive guide to complete the SME Self-Assessment can be found here.

Can I submit a proposal with my organisation status set as ‘declared’?

Yes, you can. A status of ‘declared’ is sufficient for submitting or participating in a Horizon 2020 project proposal. However, the existence and legal status of all project participants need to be validated by the Validation Service team of the European Commission prior to signing of the Grant Agreement. To check the status of your organisation, perform the PIC search as described above. Part of the validation process is the LEAR appointment (see below). The entire validation process can be long. Therefore, we recommend that partners with their status set as ‘declared’ start immediately with validation after the proposal writing.

How do I validate the status of my organisation?

You will receive an email from the European Commission, instructing you to provide documents. Login to the ECAS portal and go to ‘My Organisations’. Select the red ‘MO’ button (for modify organisation). The Research Executive Agency (REA) handles all the organisation validation issues and can only be reached through the ‘my organisation’ section in the ECAS portal.

To validate your organisation, you need to upload the following documents:

  1. A signed ‘legal entity identification form’ (FEL form)
  2. Registration extract: a copy of any official document showing the legal name, address and national registration number
  3. A copy of the VAT registration document (required only if the organisation is VAT registered and the VAT number does not appear on the above official document). If the organisation is not VAT registered, proof of VAT exemption must be provided.

What is a Legal Entity Appointed Representative (LEAR)?

A LEAR is the Legal Entity Appointed Representative, a person formally appointed by the legal representative of the legal entity to perform certain tasks on behalf of this organisation, as part of its participation in EU funded grants and prizes. The LEAR has the authority to manage financial and legal dealings on behalf of the organisation, through the electronic exchange system in the ‘My Area’ Section of the Participant Portal. Most importantly, the LEAR can assign signatories within the organisation, that are authorised to sign EU agreements, such as the Declaration of Honour and the Grant Agreement. For an extensive document on role and tasks of the LEAR, see here.

How do I appoint a Legal Entity Appointed Representative (LEAR)?

The LEAR is the only representative that is appointed by documents that cannot be uploaded electronically, but of which a physical version has to be sent to Brussels. To appoint the LEAR, prepare the following documents:

  1. The LEAR Appointment Letter: completed and signed [handwritten blue ink (original) signature] by the legal representative of your organisation;
  2. The Roles and Duties document: signed [handwritten blue ink (original) signature] by both the legal representative of your organisation and the LEAR;
  3. The Declaration of Consent (document accompanying the Terms and Conditions of use of the Electronic Exchange System): completed and signed [handwritten blue ink (original) signature] by the legal representative of your organisation;
  4. A copy of the official proof of identity for the legal representative of your organisation (carrying out a photo and signature, i.e. ID card or passport);
  5. A copy of the official proof of identity for the LEAR (carrying out a photo and signature, i.e. ID card or passport);
  6. Legal document(s) proving that the legal representative is entitled to sign on behalf of the organisation and, namely, that he/she has been appointed in such a role/function and that, in such a capacity, he/she entitled to engage the same organisation.

Your organisation has to send the above documents in paper format, within one single envelope, by regular mail (or, preferably, express courier) to:

European Commission
Research Executive Agency-Validation Services
COV 2 – 13/132
B-1049 Brussels
Belgium

More information can be found here.

How do I perform a financial viability check of my company?

Financial viability is an important factor for the EC to decide whether an organisation can act as project coordinator. In particular, when the coordinating party is an SME and the requested EU funding equals or surpasses €500.000, the EC will always check financial capacity.

Therefore, it is wise to check your organisation’s financial viability before submitting your Horizon 2020 project proposal. You can find the financial self-check tool here. The result of the self-check is divided into four categories, ranging from ‘insufficient’ to ‘good’. If you are acting as coordinator of a project proposal, your financial viability should at least be ‘acceptable’. If the financial viability is not acceptable according to the EC, the coordinator can be replaced by another party within the consortium. This financial viability self-check provides a non-binding indication and does not replace the formal check by the European Commission. You will be informed by the EC if your organisation’s financial viability needs to be assessed.

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