Volume 26 - July 14, 2010 - Noteworthy Information

10th Anniversary of the European Research Area

bridges vol. 24, December 2009 / Letter from Brussels

By Manfred Horvat

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Manfred HorvatManfred Horvat

Launched in March 2000 during the Lisbon European Council, the European Research Area (ERA) has developed into the central pillar for all European activities in the field of science and research. The policy for creating ERA was launched with the ambitious goals of achieving optimal use of scientific capacities and material resources, coordination of national and European policies, networking and creation of virtual centers, and free movement of people and ideas. The idea succeeded, and ERA is today the reference framework for European research policy issues.

This October, more than 600 participants from across all sectors, activities, and interests that have a stake in the European Research Area participated in the second ERA conference: national governments and administrations from the Member States and beyond; universities; research institutions; research-funding organizations; philanthropic bodies; civil society organizations; eminent researchers and experts; the list goes on. The conference participants hailed mostly from 32 European countries, but an additional 23 participants joined from Canada, China, Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, and the US.

The conference was characterized by intensive discussions in plenary and parallel sessions and provided an excellent impression of the high level of awareness about the importance of joint European actions in research and innovation, both in the present crisis and for addressing the grand challenges of the future.

Almost 10 years after the launching of the ERA concept, it is time to consider achievements and deficits. The European Research Area can only be developed in a joint effort between the Community and the Member States through clear commitment on both sides. Much has been achieved. However, major challenges lie ahead if the potential and strengths of European science, research, technological development, and innovation are to be fully utilized.

The role of the Framework Programs (FPs) for the development of ERA
FPs did and will continue to play the most crucial role in the development of ERA. The European Framework Program for research, technology, and development (RTD) is the largest competitive and collaborative research program worldwide.
In the last two decades alone, the EC RTD Framework Programs have supported the development of sustainable partnerships between researchers from public and private research organizations and industry. Trans-border cooperations utilizing complementary competences, capacities, and resources have become a matter of course, and have developed into a distinctive European strength, as compared to other regions in the world. In fact, to a certain extent, the Framework Programs have already made a reality of the European Research Area. There is hardly a region in the world with such well-developed links, interconnections, and cooperative activities.

Today we face grand challenges that require, in addition to trans-border cooperation, an interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral cooperation as a prerequisite to addressing the complex problems of climate change, sustainable energy, health, and demographic development, to name just a few. The ability to work in interdisciplinary teams is also a precondition for innovation. Interdisciplinary work must combine strong grounding in the individual disciplines with the capabilities and skills to work in teams involving different backgrounds. European researchers are well trained in working in teams of colleagues from different areas of expertise and from different organizations and cultures. This is one of the competitive advantages of European research.
For the future, it must be ensured that these capabilities and skills are further nurtured and developed. Thus, some important elements of the next Framework Program should be:

  • joint programs funded by Member States and the Commission addressing grand challenges
  • collaborative activities similar to the FP7 Cooperation program addressing enabling technologies and sciences such as biotechnology, information technology, materials and nano-technologies, as well as social sciences and the humanities
  • Excellence grants for beginning and advanced scientists organized by the European Research Council (ERC)
  • Substantive measures for developing the European research infrastructures
  • Industry-driven Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) and science-driven Joint Research Initiatives (JRIs).

The next Framework program, which starts in 2014, should be open to the whole world, and participants from other countries should be fully funded when European consortia find their participation useful for the project and of mutual benefit. The openness of the Framework Program is certainly a strength and should be further developed in the context of the new Strategic European Framework for International Science and Technology Cooperation.

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