ERC – a Council with a Mission: Attracting Top Brains to Europe

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As it celebrates its fifth anniversary, the European Research Council (ERC) has grown into what many see as a success story for Europe. Established in 2007, its impact on top scientists, as well as on national research systems, has been significant. By offering substantial funding for the best brains – and doing so with minimal bureaucracy – the Council has to some extent transformed the research scene in Europe. Yet, there are still challenges ahead for the five-year-old, which has just launched an ambitious global campaign to attract more scientists to Europe from around the world


Facts and Figures:

• Budget: €7.5 billion (2007-2013)

• Budget year 2013: ca. €1.8 billion

To date:
• Grantees funded: over 2,500
• Submissions: over 35,000
• Budget allocated: ca. €4.2 billion
• Calls for proposals: 8 closed and 3 ongoing

ERC President:
Prof. Helga Nowotny
ERC Secretary-General:
Prof. Donald B. Dingwell
Headquarters: Brussels, Belgium

bridges, vol. 33, May 2012 / Letter from Brussels

Established under the European Union's seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), the ERC has a total budget of €7.5 billion for 2007-2013 to fund "frontier research" in all disciplines, based solely on excellence. No thematic or geographical criteria are involved. Some have described the ERC as a "Champion's League" in the field of science, creating for the first time a real competition between the cream of the crop at the European level. By means of flexible, substantial grants, scientists – regardless of their nationality or age – receive support to pursue their most creative ideas to stimulate innovation.

Funding "blue sky" research is at the heart of the ERC's mission, which means that the outcomes are not easily predictable; but by encouraging "high-risk/high-gain" projects at the frontiers of knowledge, more breakthroughs and discoveries are likely to happen. With a bottom-up approach, the ERC awards grants directly to individual researchers, giving them the flexibility to move from one European host institution to another, if necessary, while keeping their funding. The grants have given a real boost to young researchers in particular, enabling them to gain independence early on.

So far, over 2,500 first-class scientists have been supported by ERC grants across Europe for a total of €4.2 billion. The budget for 2013 is nearly €1.8 billion; new calls for proposals will open in a few months.

Putting the ERC on the world map – ERC Goes Global

The ERC's funding is open to researchers from anywhere on the globe, provided that they spend at least half of their research time in Europe. This message needs to be spread more widely, which is why – just in time for its fifth anniversary – the ERC has kick-started a new campaign "ERC goes Global." Its goal is to attract more top scientists, whether non-Europeans or Europeans based overseas, to come to Europe for their research.

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