EU countries unenthusiastic about R&D cooperation

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Despite repeated political declarations, EU nations are in fact unwilling to accept too much coordination of their national R&D programmes, according to the final results of the consultation on the future of the European Research Area (ERA).

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” European Research Area.

The final report of the public consultation on the future of ERA, published on 24 April 2008, shows that many member states are not in much of a hurry to jointly coordinate their national research programmes or priorities. Indeed, according to many, the ERA should only consist of voluntary coordination of activities on the basis of the open method of coordination.

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.

Member states also think that strengthening research institutions is “very largely a matter for the national and local levels” and that the coordination of member states’ international research cooperation should be “voluntary and follow the principle of variable geometries”. 

Regardless of the meagre support from member states, the Commission has said it will launch four more initiatives in 2008 to: 

  • Promote the mobility and careers of European researchers;  
  • establish the legal framework for pan-European research infrastructures; 
  • improve joint programming  of publicly funded research and programmes, and; 
  • coordinate international science and technology cooperation. 

As part of the process, a Recommendation on the management of intellectual property by public research organisations was adopted on 10 April 2008 (see EURACTIV 11/04/08).

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