It was a great pleasure receiving the Invitation Letter for Grant Preparation. In this line of work you get used to receiving many different letters from the Commission, but this letter is always the best, no matter how many projects you have managed.
As a partner you congratulate of course to your coordinator and all other partners for the great job and after that you just follow the instructions received from the coordinator. When you are the coordinator, you have to work hard and make sure you comply with all conditions, all deadlines. And you do not get paid for your time and efforts.
There are good news and bad news as always when new tools are available and new rules need to be followed in a new programme. One of the good news is that the communication with the officer is very smooth as we experienced it. Help is offered very quickly and messages are answered within 24 hours in most cases.
However, no matter how quickly the officer replies, sometimes the reply is that the validation process is ongoing and you need to wait for further notice. Make sure your partners submit all documentation within one-two days, not more. Your partners should send all documentation electronically as well to the e-mail address of the validation unit, it might speed up the process. Check on the Portal who needs to extend the mandate of the LEAR, this is something that all organisations need to do in H2020.
Not all officers are fully familiar with the new functions of the Participant Portal, but the IT Helpdesk and the financial officers are there to help if you have questions. You need a certain level of patience before you get to understand the Portal or the roles of people you or the LEAR can assign, what to click on and where and sometimes even the why will have no logical answer. The Portal still has a few bugs, so do not expect 100% performance. Still, in my opinion Sygma works quite well. On our training courses we start with a full online interactive presentation, because the functions will be fully understood with the help of a demonstration only. The H2020 online manual helps, but it is still not fully developed.
The Invitation Letter does not include specific requests regarding the content of your project. During the first conversation you have with the officer you will discuss in details the comments from the Evaluation Summary Report. The officer(s) might suggest ways on how to consider these comments in the new Description of Action you will develop from the proposal. These suggestions might change the work plan in a small way or significantly (e.g. change full a work package and its budget). You should discuss these propositions with your partners and try to comply with the expectations of the European Commission. All that you need to do within 2 or 3 weeks, not more. As promised there is no negotiation process in H2020, these changes proposed by the Commission are to be taken seriously and you will change the project. As a second option you can always decide not to continue the process and choose not to launch the new project. The next consortium on the reserve list will be happy to take your place.
The advance payment is normally the average of the total EU contribution for a reporting period in H2020. So if you have three periods with EUR 3 million EU contribution in total, your advance payment will be EUR 1 million – 5% of the total EU contribution going to the Guarantee Fund (=EUR 850,000). However, the financial status of the Commission regarding spending the 2014 budget is not ideal, so you may receive less advance payment, e.g. 33% even if you have two reporting periods and not three. There might be a possibility to ask for three periods in this case, but that will increase the administrative burden on your consortium and the European Commission as well.
In conclusion you will face a few challenges. Strict deadlines, new online tools to familiarize with, new rules to be explained to your partners, and some more...On the bright side, I think the support received from the Commission is much quicker and better than in the beginning of FP7.
How about you? What problems are you facing during the GA preparation?