Almost 7,000 researchers from 41 countries have signed a petition demanding less red tape for EU-funded scientific cooperation programmes. Olivier Küttel, co-founder of the Trust Researchers campaign, says Europe's funding programmes must be streamlined if they are to be effective.
The group was born out of frustration at the mounting paperwork required of researchers applying EU funds such as the framework programme (FP7).
"The administrative burden in European research funding has constantly increased over the years despite many attempts towards simplification," says Küttel, whose Trust Researchers website calls for a more consistent, research-focused approach to funding.
The declaration, signed by thousands of scientists, will be presented to MEPs and the European Council, urging them to move to a trust-based accountability system.
Küttel rejects concerns that cutting red tape would increase the risk that public money would be unaccounted for, saying smarter ways of ensuring accountability are needed.
"The declaration is not against accounting rules. We need rules. The question is which rules," he says.
The group, which Küttel founded along with Sabine Herlitzchka of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, says there are plenty of examples – from the US and from EU member states – of how to strike a better balance between accountability and burdensome paperwork.
Küttel said he is encouraged by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU commissioner for research, innovation and science, who has pledged to streamline the funding system to make it more accessible for researchers and small businesses.
"Actually this declaration should support the commissioner's efforts in simplifying the rules. Knowing that thousands of researchers in Europe are asking for a change should assure her in whatever measures towards simplification she is undertaking," he said.
However, he noted that the commissioner's intentions will have to be matched by MEPs and national research ministers.
"Our declaration asks the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to change the rules on how research is funded. To put it differently, it just does not make sense to fund research by using the same rules as are applied for giving subsidies to the agricultural sectors or like procurement processes," he says.