‘Commission’s view on European research too narrow’

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Too much focus is being placed on increasing top-down co-ordination of research activities and centrally managed networks, according to the first responses to a Commission consultation on the European Research Area (ERA).

The consultation on the Commission’s Green Paper on ERA closed on 31 August 2007. 

The first responses welcome the Commission’s initiative to review the ERA, but argue that it fails to address the right issue, lacks ambition and focuses too much on the Commission’s own role in the European research system. 

According to stakeholders, too much emphasis is being placed on the role of governments and intergovernmental structures at the expense of other stakeholders, such as the national and European research organisations, those involved in funding research and the private sector.  

“More than 90% of public R&D funding still occurs at national level,” reiterate the heads of European Research Councils (EUROHORCs) and the European Science Foundation (ESF).

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." 

EUROHORCs and ESF also think that, when addressing the problem of ERS fragmentation, the ERA concept focuses too strongly on increasing the co-ordination of research activities. "Yet, basic research at a high level of excellence, the foundation of any successful research system, must be driven bottom-up rather than guided top-down." 

"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) had hoped that "the Commission would have expressed a stronger vision. The nucleus of the Commission's concept of the future ERA seems to build too strongly on the existing framework [...] A truly visionary document would have analysed and questioned the prior assumptions on which current policy and practice are based. Unfortunately the Green Paper didn't achieve that." 

LERU also questions the need for far reaching European-level coordination of national and regional programmes and activities. "Such a development would make articulation with the diversity of national and regional policies difficult, clumsy and ineffectual. It would also tend to stifle bottom-up initiatives," argued Geoffrey Boulton, chair of the LERU Research Policy Committee. 

LERU is also 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 league argues that the Commission should have analysed "the particular role of European vis à vis national and regional funding; the research model for Europe, the nature of collaboration and the roles of institutions, and the key processes that should be priorities for a European-level strategy".

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."

The Commission's Green Paper on new perspectives for the European Research Area (ERA), adopted in April 2007, launched a public debate on how to overcome persistent barriers to building a true ERA allowing free movement of researchers, technology and knowledge between the EU-27 and putting an end to the fragmentation and duplication of research (see EURACTIV 05/04/2007). 

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 was accompanied by a background document providing a detailed assessment of the progress made on the ERA since 2000, as well as an analysis of the current situation and challenges. 

"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," the document stated.

  • 31 August 2007: End of the ERA consultation. Summary of the results should be published soon.
  • End of 2007: A conference on the consultation's results.
  • Early 2008: Commission to propose new initiatives for ERA.

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