Experts slam EU’s ‘fractured’ research policy

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An expert group established to advise the EU executive has criticised European research policy for being driven by national concerns rather than community spirit.

In its first annual report, the European Research Area Board (ERAB) warns Europe will fall further behind global competitors if it fails to resolve long-standing difficulties regarding its fragmented research strategy. 

“We are concerned by the fractured state of the ERA today. It is still too much driven by inward-looking national priorities, too much centralism and suboptimal institutional and legal frameworks,” the report says. 

ERAB chair Dr John Wood said his group would map out the route to a more coherent European Research Area. He called on EU countries to embrace “open innovation” with free movement of scientists and knowledge, and he challenged scientists and policymakers to begin a “new Renaissance” in Europe. 

The group’s first report is high on aspiration but short on details. It sets down a series of aims on funding levels and mobility which should be met by 2030. However, Wood said ERAB would set down more specific short-, medium- and long-term goals and would speak out if politicians were slow to implement them. 

Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said some of the ERAB’s recommendations had already been included in the political priorities articulated by Commission President José Manuel Barroso. In particular, he said the appointment of Europe’s first Chief Scientific Officer would include a decision-making role on issues like climate change and fighting pandemics. 

“A Chief Scientific Advisor could therefore strengthen the weight of scientific advice, even though, at the end of the day, the decision remains under the responsibility of policymakers,” he said. 

The commissioner stressed that funding for research should not dry up due to the financial crisis. 

“I’m convinced that when we think about what measures to take during the financial crisis that we have to think about all the issues we had [been addressing] patiently and systematically before the crisis – like climate change, energy security, pandemics – none of these have disappeared,” he said. 

European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Poto?nik said ERAB is setting the bar high for European research and innovation policy. "Much has been done over the last 10 years to move research and innovation higher on the political agenda. I am confident that the next Commission will show the leadership to go even further and ERAB will be part of that," he said. 

Dr John Wood, chairman of the European Research Area Board, said he was "excited" that Commission President Barroso had announced his intention to create a Chief Scientific Advisor. He congratulated the European Commission on taking a risk by appointing such an outspoken group of scientists and engineers and pledged to speak out publicly to highlight shortcomings in research policy. 

The creation of a European Research Area (ERA) was proposed by the European Commission in January 2000, in order to create a genuine European 'internal market' for research to increase pan-European cooperation and coordination of national research activities. 

A true ERA would allow free movement of researchers, technology and knowledge between the EU 27 and put an end to fragmentation and duplication of research, allowing for more efficient use of funds. 

The ERA was relaunched in 2007 with the publication of a Green Paper highlighting shortcomings in the Commission's progress so far. 

The European Research Area Board was established in 2008 to advise on science and research policy. 

  • 21-23 Oct.: ERA conference in Brussels: 'Working together to strengthen research in Europe'.

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