EU-27 ministers in the Competitiveness Council have approved conclusions on the future governance of the European Research Area (ERA) as well as a pact on research and innovation (R&I).
The conclusions, including the ERA policy agenda for 2022-2024, serve to develop a more comprehensive governance framework for the ERA, which was launched in 2000 with the aim of creating a single market for research and facilitating cross-border collaboration in innovation. The conclusions were approved on Friday (26 November).
Last December, the European Commission set out a plan for a “new ERA”, updated to respond not only to the COVID-19 recovery context but also to the green and digital “twin transitions”. Both the streamlining of governance and the pact, which sets out common principles to guide research and innovation in Europe, were key components of the new strategy.
Friday also saw the publication of the Ljubljana Declaration on gender equality in research and innovation, intended to combat gender disparities in the field and better integrate gender dimensions into research work.
“The fight against the COVID-19 crisis has shown how extremely important research and innovation are to preserve and promote a resilient and competitive Europe”, said Simona Kustec, the minister for education, science and sport of Slovenia, which holds the rotating EU Council presidency.
“That is why this first-ever ERA policy agenda is a big step forward. It includes concrete actions that will help us to respond in a more efficient way to societal challenges.”
ERA of the future
Included in the conclusions on a new ERA is a call for the development of a multi-level governance structure to ensure the delivery of the programme. On Friday, a plan to do so was adopted by all member states except Hungary, which abstained.
The conclusions note a changed and much more expansive landscape for R&I in Europe and the need for responses to complex and rapidly evolving issues including both the pandemic and climate change.
The Commission is set to establish an ERA Forum by the end of the year, which will be tasked with enforcing the new ERA and monitoring the implementation of its policy agenda. A framework for how this will be done is expected to be presented to the Council by mid-2022.
The Forum will also serve to guide collaboration between member states and third parties and shape R&I policies and initiatives at the EU and national levels.
R&I guiding values
The recommendations on the Pact approved at the Council set out 10 principles to guide R&I in Europe and in the work of European researchers with counterparts around the world.
Key to facilitating cross-border and cross-sectoral collaboration in research, the recommendations say, will be efforts to “strengthen coordination and to deepen coherence between the Union, national and regional policies.”
Among the common values set out in the recommendations are strict rules on ethics and integrity in R&I, freedom of scientific research, enhanced coordination and global outreach and the free circulation of research staff, technology and knowledge throughout the EU and between sectors.
The Council also reaffirmed its commitment to the goal of investing 3% of EU GDP in research and development. Significant emphasis was placed on the importance of R&I when it comes to implementing large-scale policies such as the EU’s “Fit for 55” climate package, which aims for a 55% emissions reduction in the EU by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
“It is only with strong innovation at the heart of these policies that they will be able to bear fruit”, said Mariya Gabriel, the Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, at the meeting.
“We need to invest more and invest better”, she said, adding that EU countries needed to ensure that R&I was at the centre of their national-level investments.
The Ljubljana Declaration, an initiative of the Slovenian presidency published on Friday, sets out a commitment to ensuring equal access to and participation in R&I. “I officially subscribe to the Ljubljana declaration on behalf of the Commission”, Gabriel told the Competitiveness Council on Friday.
Included in the Declaration are pledges to ensure fair and inclusive career paths, tackle gender-based violence in higher education and research, ensure robust monitoring of the implementation of gender equality policies, and mainstream such initiatives into institutions at a national level.
At Friday’s meeting, however, both Hungary and Poland submitted a statement on the ERA governance conclusions saying that they would define the word “gender” in terms of “sex” and the concept of “gender equality” as “equality between women and men”, indicating that transgender people would not be considered to qualify for such protections.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]