Top level stakeholders discuss future of the ERA

‘Today is a highlight in the calendar for the Portuguese presidency, i trust it will also be a milestone in the creation of the European Research Area,’ declared European Science and Research
Commissioner Janez Potocnik at the opening session of the high level conference on the future of science and technology in Europe taking place in Lisbon, Portugal.

There has been widespread interest during the last few months in the debate on the future of the European Research Area (ERA); the Commission’s online consultation on the Green Paper on the ERA
attracted over 650 responses from a wide variety of countries, disciplines and organisations. In addition to this, 127 more detailed, free-format responses have been sent into the Commission.

In his speech, the Commissioner responded to some of the questions raised during the consultation, particularly those relating to the role of the Commission in the ERA.

‘The Commission can not and would not wish to impose the European Research Area,’ he emphasised, saying that instead all players need to take responsibility for making the ERA a reality.

Mr Potocnik added that there was ‘no appetite’ in the Commission for top-down coordination, and a bottom up approach was preferred. ‘As an economist, I strongly believe in incentives,’ he
commented.

During a session devoted to the challenges facing European science and technology, a number of issues came up time and again. The importance of boosting the links between the three sides of the
knowledge triangle – research, innovation and education – was highlighted by most of the speakers, who came from backgrounds as diverse as research, policy-making, industry and grass-roots
organisations.

Human resources also came out as a major barrier to the further advancement of European research. As Frédéric Sgard of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s
Global Science Forum pointed out, demand for researchers is currently outstripping supply. The ongoing lack of women in the sciences was particularly lamented, and more than one speaker
remarked that we already know why women are not coming into and staying in the sciences; the time has come to take firm actions to change the situation.

Many speakers called on the Member States make good on their promises regarding the Lisbon Agenda. ‘ERA will fail if the Member States don’t live up to the Lisbon objectives,’ warned Andrew
Dearing of the European Industrial Research Management Association (EIRMA).

‘We need more maturity about the ERA and to accept that we cannot all do everything but we can all gain as Europeans from the success of each other,’ added Enric Banda of Euroscience.

The importance of gaining public support for science was also recognised. This could be brought about by raising awareness of how science provides solutions to some of society’s biggest
concerns, such as healthcare, the environment and security.

An optimistic vision of the future came from Mojca Kucler Dolinar, who became Slovenia’s Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology just a few days ago. Her country will take over
the presidency of the EU in January, and she asked participants for their support in building the foundations of the ERA.

‘The success of the ERA is in our hands,’ she said. ‘Let’s make the vision of the European Research Area a reality.’

Ultimately, there was a clear sense that we already know how to overcome many of the barriers to creating the ERA; the challenge now is to implement these solutions. As Graham Davies of the
University of Birmingham said, quoting Elvis: ‘A little less conversation, a little more action’.

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