Potocnik urges stakeholders to take responsibility for creation of ERA
Following the end of the Green Paper consultation on the formation of the European Research Area (ERA), EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has called on stakeholders to take
responsibility for the creation of the ERA and to focus on European added value.
Speaking at the annual meeting of Germany’s Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Bonn, the Commissioner noted that while there was ‘broad support’ for the ERA among stakeholders, the consultation had
also uncovered two major objections: apprehension that the ERA would centralise control of research and development (R&D) in Brussels, and that giving scientists the ability to move freely
across borders would lead to ‘cultural homogenisation’.
Mr Potocnik responded by saying that it was not up to the Commission to build the European Research Area, ‘either by law or by wishful thinking’.
‘The Commission cannot, and would not wish, to impose the ERA. A genuine European Research Area will only be created if all researchers, their institutions and companies, the Member States and
regions as well as the Commission work together in partnership, with each accepting their responsibility for making it happen,’ he said.
The Commissioner added that there is no appetite in the Commission, or elsewhere, for top-down coordination. Instead, incentives should be deployed to stimulate and reward bottom-up initiatives
for more competition and cooperation, he argued.
Quoting from the joint contribution of the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCS) and the European Science Foundation (ESF), Mr Potocnik said: ‘Fragmentation is not so much an issue of
too little coordination, but mainly a consequence of limited competition within protected national research areas.’
The Commissioner then called for more focus on European added value, saying that the strongest benefits the European dimension can bring are ‘more competition between researchers to be better
and more competition between research funders to make Europe stronger in research’.
Finally, Mr Potocnik reiterated his appeal for research and innovation to reinforce each other, calling on businesses and public research institutions to make connections with each other and
form excellence-driven long-term partnerships with the goal of exploring ideas and developing products. ‘The links between an excellent public research base and business are key to an
innovation ecosystem,’ he said.
The Green Paper on the ERA attracted more than 800 responses by the time the consultation came to an end in August. It identified a number of key issues for the future of the ERA, including
public investment, globalisation of research, private sector investment, the emergence of new scientific powers and the specialisation of research activities at EU, rather than national level.
Six priority areas for action were suggested by the Commission: researchers, infrastructures, excellence of research institutions, knowledge-sharing, international cooperation, coordinated
programming and evaluation, and opening the ERA to the world. All were seen as important by respondents. ‘Knowledge-sharing’ emerged as the most critical aspect of achieving the ERA vision, but
‘researchers’ as the most important in terms of need for EU-level action.
The main points in each of the six priority areas were as follows:
Knowledge sharing: Most replies called for raw data resulting from publicly-funded research to be made more readily accessible, and argued that peer-reviewed scientific publications should be
accessible free of charge.
Responses also underlined the cultural differences between the business and scientific communities. Clear rules to promote knowledge transfer between research institutions and industry were
called for, with a requirement that research institutions implement efficient systems to manage intellectual property rights. TV and the Internet were confirmed as the main tools to share
scientific knowledge with the wide public.
Researchers: The key requirement is to break down obstacles to mobility. Some 62% of respondents wanted to see better implementation of the European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct
for their recruitment, with 75% supporting a ‘label’ for those that implement it. Transferability of pension rights, health insurance, unemployment benefits, and parental leave were also
Research infrastructures: Most respondents strongly supported the development of pan-European research infrastructures as identified by the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures
(ESFRI), and agreed that clear leadership should be taken at EU level.
Research institutions: A majority agreed that the standards and competitiveness of EU research institutions would be reinforced if more funding were allocated on a competitive basis. Links with
businesses need to be increased through an exchange of human resources and shared research goals.
Research programmes: Respondents stressed the need for further simplification in the Seventh framework Programme (FP7), with 62% saying that funding rules and procedures have been too complex.
The identification of future research challenges and opportunities was suggested as an area for closer EU-wide collaboration. More cooperation between public national research programmes was
supported to tackle resource-intensive, complex scientific challenges.
In terms of implementing research across borders, respondents supported both Community programmes (collaborative projects under FP7), as well as joint ‘variable geometry’ projects with the
Member States, to be defined in a bottom-up way.
International cooperation: This is seen as essential. Over 80% of replies highlighted the need for the EU and Member States to work more closely together to ensure better coordinated and more
efficient international cooperation. Three-quarters agreed that Europe should speak with one voice on global science issues. The EU should be more proactive in defining the global science and
technology agenda, and focus on a small number of high profile global issues to lead international research.
The Commission is currently working on developing key messages on the ERA for an informal summit in October, and preparing the ground for the ERA to be debated at the November Competitiveness