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European Research Executive Agency
News article24 April 2024European Research Executive Agency6 min read

20 years together: celebrating how the 2004 EU enlargement fostered research success stories

The 20th anniversary of the EU's 2004 enlargement is an occasion to celebrate a new era. It opened doors for a generation of EU researchers to collaborate across borders and to develop their careers while advancing the frontiers of science.

© European Union, 2024 ; image source: bestfoto77,

Two decades ago, on 1 May 2004, the European Union welcomed ten new Member States: Czechia, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. This was one of the most significant EU enlargements, unequalled in terms of population size and number of countries.

This brought a range of benefits for citizens in the ten new Members and the EU as a whole.

Collaboration across countries is the backbone of scientific advancements. Over these past two decades, researchers have had new ways to access EU funding and unprecedented opportunities to develop their careers in cross-border initiatives while contributing to the pursuit of knowledge and policymaking. The expanded research and innovation community has contributed to the success of thousands of research projects, helping science evolve at the EU level.

In this article, we will delve into some of the EU-funded projects and advancements that have emerged from these ten Member States over the past years.


SPOT: A new innovate take on cultural tourism

Historical cities, museums, and archaeological sites collectively constitute around 40% of European tourist destinations. The SPOT project introduced a fresh perspective; exploring innovative strategies to promote disadvantaged areas. By leveraging their abundant cultural assets, local communities can benefit while uncovering multiple layers of data and capitalizing on existing practices.


SilentBorder: New scanning technology for customs and border inspections

The scope of counterfeited and pirated products crossing borders is both broad and expanding. Currently, only a small fraction of cargo undergoes inspection, resulting in low detection rates for illegal goods. The SilentBorder project develops a cutting-edge cosmic ray tomography scanner, aimed to support border guard, customs, and law enforcement authorities.


KIOS: Protecting critical infrastructure from natural disasters

Critical infrastructures - including water, energy, and transportation systems - play a vital role in our daily lives. However, they face numerous challenges due to factors like climate change and cyber-attacks. The KIOS Centre of Excellence addresses this need. By leveraging state-of-the-art technologies, KIOS contributes to the safety of European citizens amidst emerging threats to our infrastructure. This includes a simulation of Cyprus’ power system and a software platform that analyses transport data to enhance road safety.


BBCE: Developing biomaterials for bone regeneration

The increasing number of elderly people in the EU is leading to greater healthcare needs, including a high number of cases concerning the locomotor system. One of the most advanced fields when it comes to bioengineering is bone regeneration and repair. The Baltic Biomaterials Centre of Excellence aims to create new implant materials for bone tissue regeneration. With the help of both academia and SMEs, the project strives to speed up technology transfer from the lab to the market. In July 2021, the Centre welcomed the visit of European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen.


TREL: Cross-border skills exchange helping children in Lithuania

Tumours can arise in various parts of the body. Some specific types, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumours, exclusively affect children. The TREL project advanced transnational, clinical, and late-effect research in paediatric solid tumours, addressing the lack of opportunities for international training and research in Lithuania. Thanks to TREL, 32 specialists from Lithuania have been placed in Europe’s leading medical institutions.


OTTER: Creating future problem solvers through outdoor education

Real learning happens through practical experience, not just reading theory in a textbook. Learning outside the classroom - in settings like museums, adventure camps, farms, and zoos - inspires new skills in students. The OTTER project promoted education outside the classroom, partnering with educators to enhance students' scientific knowledge and engagement in STEAM subjects. One of the Lab initiatives based in Hungary focused on the protection of flora, fauna, and water quality against plastic pollution. Based on this and additional Labs in different EU countries, the project launched a Learning Platform providing guidance on alternative learning.


INPAROL: Ultrasound-powered parabiotics to combat oral diseases

The INPAROL project introduced ultrasound technology that produces parabiotics – inactivated probiotics used in dental care. The research demonstrated the potential of parabiotics to counteract oral bacteria associated with oral diseases, providing significant implications in expanding oral health treatment options and other applications in medical and food science fields.


MOSaIC: Unlocking the potential of mRNA treatments

The potential of mRNA extends far beyond the COVID-19 vaccine. With the help of the MOSaIC project, a research centre in Poland is laying the groundwork for new therapies targeting diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and genetic conditions. “Today, the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw is a place where ambitious and motivated people – scientists, students, entrepreneurs – are invited to carry out the high-quality, game-changing research that could redefine healthcare as we know it,” says Jacek Kuźnicki, coordinator of the EU-funded project and former director of the institute.


TwinBrain: Twinning the brain with machine learning

Studying the brain's activity during common movements like walking, balancing, or learning new motor-cognitive tasks is a significant challenge for neuroscience. The TwinBrain project developed a novel comprehensive method for examining the brain and body dynamics, known as MoBI (Mobile Brain/Body Imaging). Not only does this advance our understanding of brain function, but it could also open the door to treating neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s.


FOODRUS: Reducing food waste and losses in the agri-food chain

Bread is a national symbol of Slovakia, and it is important to prevent it from being one of the most wasted foods in the country. This involves changing people's mindset by providing information about the impact of wasted food on natural and financial resources, as well as its severe environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The FOODRUS project will test 23 circular solutions across three EU Member States (Slovakia, Denmark and Spain), using blockchain methods to manage food waste, educational materials to promote sustainable consumption and networks for local food consumption and donation.

"The 2004 enlargement had a profound impact on our Union. Over these past two decades, it has brought unprecedented opportunities for Europeans: it opened doors to close cooperation in science, to studying abroad, to cross-border initiatives in culture and sport, and many other benefits. Enlargement has fostered progress and unity for the EU and continues to do so.”

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

Horizon Europe - Widening’s role

The Horizon Europe: Widening participation and spreading excellence plays a crucial role in ensuring that all EU Member States have equal access to the benefits of the Horizon Europe research and innovation framework, with a total EU funding of more than €2.9 billion. By providing targeted funding and support, the Widening funding opportunity helps strengthen the capacity of identified regions that lag in research and innovation output - ultimately contributing to the overall competitiveness and cohesion of the EU.

Available funding opportunities

Under the Widening programme, the ERA Talents action is open for applications from 25 April 2024. This action aims to boost interoperability of careers and employability of research and innovation talents across sectors, with a centre of gravity in widening countries.

The European Research Executive Agency manages 10 major funding programmes, with around 40 calls for EU-funding opportunities opening every year. Make sure to check them out!


Discover more

20 years together - European Commission (

20 years together: Facts and figures about the benefits of the enlargement for the EU - European Commission (

20 years together: success stories - European Commission (

20 years together - brochure | European Commission (


Publication date
24 April 2024
European Research Executive Agency