Ministers seek new vision for European Research Area

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Nearly ten years after the European Research Area concept was launched, EU countries and the Commission have agreed to launch yet another process to overcome the fragmentation of research activities, programmes and policies across Europe.

The EU-27 research ministers and the Commission agreed, on 15 April 2008, on a new partnership called ‘Ljubljana Process’, which they hope will lead to better exploitation of Europe’s research potential and the creation of a genuine European Research Area (ERA). 

“We have not yet used Europe’s full research potential on human resources, institutions or regarding synergy among all stakeholders,” said Slovenian Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology Mojca Kucler Dolinar, speaking to the press after the informal meeting of research ministers. 

However, she said “you can really feel a new energy among the member states and the Commission and I am convinced that we will be able to begin a new process, the Ljubljana Process, which will not only contribute to the European Research Area but to Europe as a whole”.

The Ljubljana Process is expected to provide new impetus for the creation of a true ERA and thus contribute to increasing the competitiveness of European industries – a key pillar of the Lisbon Agenda. In view of this, the Council agreed on the need for the member states and the Commission to share a long-term vision on ERA, consisting of: 

  • A free flow of knowledge, with excellent research and attractive jobs;
  • modern universities and research institutions; 
  • more incentives for the private sector to invest in research; 
  • better use of research results, and; 
  • better access to research infrastructure. 

The first version of the vision is expected to be finalised by the end of 2008 “in order to quickly focus policies and actions to make it happen”. Talking about the vision, Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said “we now have the compass for it and know what the general direction is”. 

In the framework of the ‘Ljubljana Process’, the ministers also agreed to improve the political governance of ERA  by building links between research and other policies, such as education, innovation and cohesion policies. 

However, the management and governance will, according to Commissioner Poto?nik, take more time to implement than the vision “as it is a long-term process”. Thus the two upcoming EU presidencies are expected to deal with it (France and the Czech Republic). 

The creation of ERA, a genuine European ‘internal market’ for research to increase pan-European co-operation and co-ordination of national research activities, was proposed by the Commission in January 2000. Due to the lack of tangible achievements, the concept was ‘relaunched’ in spring 2007 (see EURACTIV 05/04/07). 

Some progress has been made since 2000, but much more remains to be done, particularly to overcome the fragmentation of research activities, programmes and policies across Europe. “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,” Poto?nik explained.

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