EU Offers EUR 4m in Grants to ‘Language Tool’ Developers

European Commission Translation Technology Grant (CEF)

Venture capital funding has all but dried up over the past few weeks, with VC firms marking down their portfolios. But at least one source of funding remains wide open. The European Union is offering grants of between EUR 0.2–0.8m to developers of “language tools” (e.g., translation productivity tools) and “language resource projects” (e.g., machine translation corpora of official EU languages) under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Telecom budget for the second year in a row.

An infrastructure funding instrument, the CEF was set up to promote growth and create jobs. In the CEF call for proposals (Deadline: May 12, 2020), the EU earmarked a total of EUR 4m (USD 4.32) under Automated Translation, for the purpose of “providing solutions to make European digital services multilingual” over two years, as it did last spring.

(Update: The deadline for the call has been extended to June 25, 2020 due to Covid-19.)

According to CEF documents, applicants that previously received grants under the same CEF Telecom program last year may apply again as long as they clearly explain how their new proposal will build on or be different from their previous one.

“In order to be eligible, a proposal must be submitted by a consortium composed of, at least, two public or private entities based in two or more member states and / or EEA countries participating in the CEF program. In addition, you need to address at least two languages,” said Philippe Gelin, Head of Sector Multilingualism at the European Commission, who spoke during the Virtual Info Day held on March 11, 2020 (video).

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Gelin added that applicants should note that consortia members need prior EU Member State / EEA (European Economic Area) country agreements (i.e., from the EU, Norway, or Iceland) and should leave enough time for preparing these documents. (This link downloads the list of contacts for country agreements.)

Proposals must also focus on only one of three objectives of the CEF Telecom program, summarized as follows:

• Providing language resources to the CEF via the ELRC-SHARE repository  – Includes identifying, collecting, and processing (e.g., anonymization, aggregation, alignment, conversion, IP clearance) of language resources.

• Making existing language-specific tools available through the ELRC-SHARE repository – Includes everything that enables the reuse of the language tools (e.g., identification, documentation, conversion, standardization, normalization, IP clearance) in other digital public service platforms. Moreover, “applicants are strongly encouraged to focus on language-specific tools with strong multilingual interoperability aspects and specifically covering under-resourced official languages in the EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. The proposals may cover language tools for Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian or Turkish.”

• Integrating processes into the CEF Automated Translation service – Applicants must provide evidence that the integration will provide added value to the service.

Gelin said EUR 0.2–0.8m is just an indicative range, and proposals may exceed both thresholds as long as they can justify the positive impact on the CEF program. He added that co-financing is available up to 75% of eligible costs, and pre-financing can cover up to 50% of the awarded grant (details here). R&D activities are not covered.

The EUR 4m total budget for Automated Translation is part of up to EUR 31.4m earmarked for European Digital Service Infrastructures (or DSIs) — which also includes items such as eDelivery EUR 0.9m), Blockchain (EUR 3m), Master Programs in Artificial Intelligence (EUR 6.5m), and Safer Internet (EUR 11m).

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According to the EU, this is just the first call for proposals under the 2019–2020 CEF Telecom Work Program, and CEF Telecom plans to allocate more than EUR 67m in grants for DSIs. Leading the process is the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA), which plans to start evaluating proposals in June 2020, and release its decision in October 2020.

Applicants should use the Automated Translation proposal submission system and complete the application requirements by the June 25, 2020 deadline.