Stakeholders call for more flexibility in ERA

European industry has asked for a change of emphasis for the European Research Area (ERA). The European Commission’s Green Paper, on which stakeholder consultation has just been closed, has too
narrow a focus in that it concentrates on public research systems, said industry representatives at a public hearing in the European Parliament on 20 November. The hearing was organised by
Austrian MEP Dr Paul Rübig, the Federation of Austrian Industry and the Confederation of Danish Industries.

‘The emphasis of the ERA should be extended to support flexibility of approach to knowledge-intensive activities,’ explained Leif Kjaergaard, chairman of the Research and Technology working
group of the European industry organisation Business Europe. ‘Also a more effective translation of research findings is necessary in order to address large-scale market and social objectives.’

Currently, ERA policies concentrate strongly on ‘the push side of the equation’ -more research activity, facilitating researcher movement, creating infrastructure – whereas it is equally
important to consider the pull-side. ‘Therefore, it is necessary to create markets, intelligent customers and higher demand for research and innovation that can help European high-tech
start-ups reach world class,’ said Mr Kjaergaard.

More precisely, European industry stakeholders say that the ERA should not encourage centralisation, but rather decentralisation, benefiting from the diversity of interests and experiences in
Europe and creating research infrastructures unrestricted as far as possible by national and other boundaries, Mr Kjaergaard stated. He also suggested that the ERA should be open to the rest of
the world in order to make Europe more attractive and to deal with challenges beyond the ability of individual regions.

Preliminary results of the Commission’s stakeholder consultation draw a similar picture with regard to centralisation: ‘So far, we can see that there is strong support for action in the areas
identified in the Green Paper. There is also an expressed wish for the EU not to get involved in binding legislative actions at European level and they rather advocate for the Commission to be
a facilitator,’ summarised Dr James Gavigan, a Head of Unit in the European Commission’s Research DG. He promised a more detailed analysis of the input for January 2008.

Simultaneously, the Commission is planning to launch five specific initiatives over the next few months, Dr Gavigan announced, ‘to help Member States identify joint public research programmes.
We also want to launch an initiative for a general partnership for virtual European research passports, for mobility and career development; a legal framework to facilitate pan-European
research infrastructures; a Commission recommendation for the management of IPR [intellectual property rights] in public research institutions and a common strategy for international science
and technology cooperation.’

Speaking on behalf of the European Parliament, Umberto Guidoni, Italian MEP and rapporteur on the ERA Green Paper, said that instead of too much European involvement, there was a lack of ‘a
true European dimension’ to the concept. ‘Europe is not able to attract new investment in research,’ he argued. Instead, investors are moving their money to China and other emerging countries.
In addition, Europe’s research investments are too scattered all around Europe. To counter this, the EU needs ‘to make sure that funds are spent as effectively as possible’. In order to achieve
this, the ERA, which from Mr Guidoni’s point of view ‘used to be a rather static concept’, needs to become more flexible: ‘I think we have to be willing now to take a different approach to take
action at the level where it is most effective.’

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