Summit backs ‘fifth freedom’ for EU scientists

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EU leaders gathered in Brussels last week agreed to step up efforts to improve working conditions for researchers and increase knowledge transfer between universities and business as a way to reverse the ‘brain drain’ of European talent.

Leaders of the 27-nation bloc highlighted the “free movement of knowledge” as a priority to respond to the challenges of globalisation and transform the EU into “a truly modern and competitive economy”, according to the conclusions of the Spring Summit, adopted on 14 March.

According to the conclusions, this “fifth freedom” should be created by removing barriers to the cross-border mobility of researchers, students, scientists and academic staff and by providing researchers with “better career structures” including familly-friendly career paths.

EU leaders also stressed that further higher education reforms are necessary for the fifth freedom to be achieved. In addition, they said intellectual property created by publicly funded research should be used “so as to increase knowledge transfer to industry”. An “IP Charter” should be adopted “before the end of the year” to help address this, the leaders agreed.

Other key components of the fifth freedom will include the promotion of open access to knowledge and innovation, scientific excellence and mutual recognition of qualifications.

Supporting the mobility of researchers is one of the objectives of the EU’s Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs and one of the prerequisites for creating a true European Research Area (ERA). A review of ERA was conducted in 2007 and the Commission is expected to come up shortly with proposals to increase the mobility of researchers and promote effective knowledge sharing via open access to data and scientific publications.

The Commission has already adopted, in March 2005, a European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for their recruitment. The Charter gives researchers the same rights and obligations wherever they may work and aims at increasing transparency and openness in recruitment processes. The charter and code have been endorsed by a number of research organisations but member states have no obligation to implement it.

In order to attract foreign researchers, the Council also adopted in autumn 2005 a “researchers’ package” (EURACTIV 23/03/2005). Part of the package is a specific researchers’ visa, which aims to facilitate the admission of third-country nationals to carry out scientific research in the EU. However, only six member states had fully transposed the directive into national law by the 12 October 2007 deadline. The Commission said it could launch infringements procedure against the countries who have failed to honour their commitments.

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