The European Research Area (ERA) has yet to achieve its full potential as to mobility of researchers, smooth business to academia co-operation, co-ordination of national and regional funding and better exploitation of research results, the Commission has acknowledged.
"Some progress has been made since the concept was endorsed at the Lisbon European Council in 2000. However, there is still much further to go to build ERA, particularly to overcome the fragmentation of research activities, programmes and policies across Europe," states the Commission's Green Paper on new perspectives for the European Research Area (ERA), published on 4 April 2007.
"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 intends to create a request for new member state funding for research, as most of the money is still in their hands."
The document raises a number of questions on how to deepen and widen the ERA so that it fully contributes to the renewed Lisbon Strategy aiming for more growth and jobs. The Green Paper is also set to launch a wide institutional and public debate on the issue to help the Commission to prepare proposals for concrete initiatives in early 2008.
The main issues for consultation, set out in the Green Paper are:
- Removing the institutional and national barriers hampering free movement of researchers;
- improving their working conditions and widening their career propects;
- developing world-class research infrastructures together to share the extremely high buildling and operating costs;
- strengthening universities and public research organisations by increased autonomy and funding;
- increasing access to knowledge by sharing research results and improving knowledge transfer between public research and industry;
- optimising research programmes by making national and regional research more coherent and joint priority setting, and;
- opening ERA to the world by increasing international research co-operation.
The Green Paper is accompanied by a background document providing a detailed assessment of progress made on the ERA since 2000, as well as an analysis of the current situation and challenges.
"So far, the European Research Area 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."
- The consultation on future ERA will be opened on 1 May-31 August 2007.
- A conference on the results of the consultation will take place end of 2007.
- The Commission will propose new initiatives for ERA in 2008.