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Radboud Horizon Europe Stories - success of the DIGNITYFIRM project, as told by Tesseltje de Lange, Professor of European Migration Law

Date of news: 10 July 2023

An interview with Tesseltje de Lange, Professor of European Migration Law

What makes Horizon Europe specifically important as a funding opportunity?

I think there are at least two reasons why Horizon Europe offers an important funding opportunity. Firstly, the calls relate to topics EU policy makers are working on, and – at least in our case – policy dilemmas are at the heart of the call. The call we answered to wants us to address irregular migrants’ rights in the EU. In a time when regular migration is in itself contested, at least in some EU member states, talking about irregular migrant rights is even more sensitive. Secondly, the budget offered, some 3 million euros, allows us to perform comparative, experimental, and participatory research across the EU and in non-EU countries that we would not easily get funded elsewhere.

How has your own research benefitted from the Horizon Europe grant?

We’re about to start with the project, so the research in itself still needs to be performed and delivered. Yet, I’m sure the project establishes our Radboud University Network on Migrant Inclusion (RUNOMI) and the Centre for Migration Law (CMR) internationally. For one, during the preparation of the project we’ve been liaising with so called sister-projects, as well as other consortia that got funded in linked call. The sister projects are run by distinguished colleagues and cooperating with them has, speaking of an individual benefit, increased my network considerably. My readership has also gone up although I am not sure if that is related, but I’m guessing it is. Combining efforts and liaising with so many experts is likely to improve the quality of the output and, we hope, our impact on policy makers and eventually, migrant workers’ rights in the EU.

How did the grant support team help you in proposal writing? What support services were most useful at the faculty and central level?

Grant support at central level is quite experienced in the business of applying for Horizons. Our grant advisor joined our online preparatory meetings regularly, kept a time plan for us, and provided detailed comments and suggestions on the draft proposal. There is also lots of documentation available on their website to help you understand the specific Horizon lingo. Grant support also helped with the infographics, which made the proposal look nice too. Actually, drawing out our ideas helped us to resolve some conceptual knots. Our grant advisor also suggested we organize a feedback session with other experts within and beyond the RUNOMI network, which got us some excellent feedback. They also teamed me up with Mieke Verloo, an all-time star in successful Horizon applications. An afternoon at her kitchen table discussing the do’s and don’ts kept me on track. At the faculty level we received support in putting together the budgets, uploading the right info into the portal. Also post award, the support we got from several staff members at central and faculty level – at the Nijmegen School of Management - was key.

Why do you think your proposal was selected? What are the ingredients for a successful EU-funded project?

I think what got us through is our strong team, an integrated plan of action, and some concepts that were evaluated as innovative by reviewers. In our case this meant the regulatory infrastructure. Our project factsheet reads, among others: This projects’ added value is our charting the wider regulatory infrastructures that shape conditions and vulnerabilities of irregular migrants at work in Farm 2 Fork (F2F) industries and how these infrastructures can be improved and explaining variations in F2F labour markets reliance on irregularly employed migrants across the EU and selected non-EU countries. The specific migration policy areas where we expect to make a clear contribution to the state of the art is on: the Employer Sanctions Directive 2009/50; the Single Permit Directive 2011/98 and its recast, and the Seasonal Workers Directive 2014/36 as well as other Directives touching on (irregular) migrant worker rights and protection, cross-referencing the Social Pillar, F2F policies, and corporate social responsibility policy. I think investigating the intersection with policies outside the obvious migration policies is at least one of the successful ingredients of our projects.

What tips would you give to other researchers to make use of available EU funding?

Start in time and put together a team of people you like to work with. Some should have experience in Horizons. It was our first go at it, immediately starting as Principal Investigator. This is warned against – better to start as Work Package leader - but our success proves it’s not impossible. We did have some experienced partners who knew the drill, which was extremely helpful. It’s also wise to include a practitioner. In our case this is PICUM, a platform bringing together organizations striving for irregular migrant rights across the globe. Obviously, get grant support on board from the beginning 😊. And then of course, a good research idea, covering fieldwork in relevant EU and non-EU countries, is a necessity, doing what you’re good at yet answering the call. Then, when you are actually drafting the proposal, delegate! You have to be a bit bossy, top down yet nicely asking people in the consortium to write up certain bits of the proposal. They are experts in their field so they’ll know best how to describe their methodology and how they go beyond the state of the art. A final tip would be to really enjoy the process of drafting and be awarded the time it needs. It’s not something you can do on the side on a couple of Friday afternoons…so this is not just a tip for the researchers but also for our faculties’ and university management: to be successful at such big projects costs time. The grant support is great, yet if researchers are overloaded with teaching, finding the time to do an application like this will be hard.