"The problem is that things [various EU initiatives on ERA] are voluntary for the member states, thus slow. The Commission would like them to go faster," said Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. "The Green Paper (2007) intends to create a request for new member state funding for research, as most of the money is still in their hands."
"So far, the ERA has been a concept, we have not had it for real. The main barrier for a 'real ERA' is philosophical: we still think national," said Bertil Andersson, the former chief executive of the European Science Foundation in an interview with EurActiv.com.
According to him, politicians still think about research from national perspective. "Swedish taxpayers' money should fund a Swedish person working for a Swedish project at a Swedish university connected to a Swedish invention and leading to Swedish employment," he explained adding that "one should, however, remember that creation of knowledge is not nationally based."
Indeed, results of the recent consultation on the future of ERA show that despite repeated political declarations, EU member states are in fact unwilling to accept too much coordination of their national R&D programmes. Apart from backing a greater role for the EU in the development of large-scale research infrastructures that in any case are too costly for one member state to develop alone, the EU countries do not seem that enthusiastic about the idea of a "true" ERA. According to many, the ERA should only consist of voluntary coordination of activities on the basis of the open method of coordination (OMC).
Instead, member states stress the importance of "striking a careful balance" in optimising research programmes and priorities and believe too much coordination and cooperation may "potentially reduce positive competition and diversity". Only Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Norway declare themselves open - "in principle" - to reciprocal and gradual opening of funding programmes "under conditions of balanced reciprocity".
As for the creation of a single labour market for researchers, member states believe that compulsory EU legislation is not desirable and that voluntary guidelines are enough. Some support the single labour market, providing it does not lead to the deterioration of research in less developed regions, while others think compulsory EU legislation on the issue could have asymmetric impacts due to different national employment legislation and practices.
Heads of European Research Councils (EUROHORCs) and the European Science Foundation (ESF) say that if the Commission is serious about establishing a comprehensive ERA, "it needs to engage and focus more on the national research funding and performing organisations, the private sector, and the non-European research systems for the development of the ERA".
"The Commission's analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the European Research System (ERS) concentrates too much on the perspective of the Commission's role and on that of governments and intergovernmental structures. It ignores the role of other stakeholders, such as the national research funding and research performing organisations, as well as other European bodies, the private sector, and, finally, non- European research systems."
"The Commission needs to put more money into basic research through programmes such as the ERC, to reduce its bureaucracy for these programmes, and to put some pressure on its member states to remove the still abundant barriers to the mobility of researchers," state EUROHORCs and ESF.
The League of European Research Universities (LERU) is sceptical about the EU's penchant for networks. The league argues that networking between groups with similar interest is already omnipresent but that to be successful, collaboration must be dynamic and flexible and research networks need to be able to modify their activities in response to changing needs. "It would be a mistake to go towards a situation where European networks are subject to stronger central management or where the component groups become too disconnected from their parent institutions," said David Livesey, secretary-general of LERU.
The European Platform of Women Scientists reiterates that "consideration of gender is essential. Gender diversity in research and research leadership renders research more creative, and will therefore ultimately result in a higher likeliness of innovation."
According to the European Science Foundation (ESF) the ERA must be viewed as a long-term strategy and it must build on existing structures and organisations at national and EU levels.
European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) agrees with the Commission that a better co-ordination between national and European research policies is essential for the EU to keep up with its main competitors, the US and Japan. However, UEAPME has voiced concern over the absence of a mention of the role of SMEs in this respect. In particular, the association fears that the Commission's concept of an ERA exclusively focuses on basic research, not taking into account market needs and innovation practices. It therefore calls for a strengthening of the research environment in the private sector, and in particular in SMEs.
ELSO, the European Life Sciences Organisation, points to the fact that no amount of structuring and co-ordination can make up for the lack of highly trained and well-funded researchers. The focus should therefore be on the training and mobility of young researchers and on their resources.
ETNO, the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, argues in favour of a bigger role for industry in identifying future priorities. It cautions against spreading EU resources too thinly and covering an excessively wide choice of research areas. It also underlined the importance of concentrating on long-term pre-competitive projects.
To see written contributions submitted in response to the Green Paper on ERA, click here.