Commission backs pan-EU pension schemes for researchers

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After EU leaders agreed at the Spring Summit to step up efforts to improve working conditions for researchers, the Commission has presented upgraded plans to boost researchers’ mobility, including pan-EU pension schemes targeted at researchers.

Despite repeated political commitments and numerous Commission initiatives, progress at national level to improve the mobility of researchers remains slow and the take-up of the voluntary Researchers Charter has been limited. 

Improving employment and career prospects for researchers is part of the EU’s strategy to fight the ‘brain drain’ to the US and to enhance the EU’s competitiveness so that it can meet the core aims of the Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs. 

The EU executive’s aim is, however, not to treat researchers as some elite group, officials said, adding that the same kind of provisions can be proposed for other professional groups too, like health workers. According to them, the mobility of researchers is considered so crucial to the EU’s economic growth and competitiveness that the Commission finds it justified to start with them.

The EU executive’s new policy document urges member states to join together in a partnership for better careers and more mobility for researchers. This communication is one of five policy initiatives constituting the follow-up to the 2007 review of the European Research Area (ERA). 

Presenting the Commission’s proposals on 27 May, Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said he expected “rapid, measurable progress” by the end of 2010 on the four priority points of action, which are already part of the 2005 Recommendation on the Researchers Charter:  

  • Open recruitment by national research institutions of all EU researchers; 
  • improved social security and transferability of supplementary pension rights, eventually including pan-EU pension schemes targeted at researchers; 
  • better employment and working conditions linked to contractual terms, salaries and opportunities for career development; 
  • improved training, including entrepreneurial aspects linked to intellectual property management, project funding bidding, and setting up a company.

A proposal for a directive covering the supplementary pension rights’ portability is currently under negotiation (see EURACTIV 24/01/2008), but is unlikely to address the ‘transferability’ of such rights. Therefore, the Commission Communication on researchers mobility states it would be “desirable in the medium term to explore the feasibility of measures to ease transfer of supplementary pension rights for highly-mobile workers, including researchers.”

In addition, the communication argues that pension providers should be encouraged to open up “pan-EU pension schemes targeted to researchers” and companies should be encouraged to use pension providers in other EU member states. 

Commissioner Poto?nik said he would like to see one of the next presidencies organise a joint meeting of the Competitiveness and Social Affairs Council to send a “first and a strong signal to the researchers’ community”.

As early as June 2000, Council resolutions on establishing a European area of research and innovation and the reinforcement of the mobility strategy within the ERA (November 2001) stressed the importance of developing human resources as key factors in research excellence in Europe, as well as the need to introduce a European dimension to researchers' careers. 

Two years later, the Council adopted a resolution on the profession and the career of researchers in the European Research Area (ERA), recognising the key role that researchers play in promoting European growth and competitiveness and stressing the need to improve their career prospects. 

In 2005, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on the European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for their recruitment  to provide researchers with long-term career prospects by creating more favourable conditions for their mobility in support of EU competitiveness (see EURACTIV 08/09/05). However, as the adoption and implementation of the charter depend on the member states and individual research organisations, its take-up has, according to the Commission, so far been limited.

In the March 2008 Spring Summit, leaders of the 27-nation bloc committed to creating a "fifth freedom", standing for the "free movement of knowledge". This would, according to the summit conclusions, be done by removing barriers to the cross-border mobility of researchers, students, scientists and academic staff and by providing researchers with "better career structures".

  • By end 2010: Member states are expected to make necessary changes to national laws and regulations to ensure progress on the communication's four priority points.

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