A future European Research Council? - Danish Minister for Science Helge Sander answers questions concerning a council of European researchers

October 8, 2002

Copenhagen, 07 Oct 2002

At the moment, researchers from all over Europe are vigorously discussing whether there is a need to establish a European Research Council. On 7-8 October, they will have the opportunity to air their views face to face, when the Danish Council for Research Policy holds a conference on the issue in Copenhagen. Among the delegates will be senior representatives of national governments, the European Commission, European research organisations, as well as of research councils and similar bodies in Europe. The Danish Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Mr Helge Sander, will also be attending, and below he presents his views on the establishment of a European Research Council.

What lies behind the idea of a European Research Council?

In general, the national research councils existing in the Member States today are responsible for allocating research grants and providing advice on questions that require research knowledge. The idea of a European Research Council is to gather together some of these functions at European level. The goal is to enhance European research by improving coordination and increasing competition for research funding. A European Research Council is still very much at the conceptual stage, and a number of different proposals have been put forward regarding ways in which such a council should be organised. The Danish research councils have now organised a conference, so that the issue can be discussed and further developed. I think that is an excellent initiative.

Why has the idea for a European Research Council been put on the agenda now?

European co-operation within research has been through a turbulent time in recent years. On the one hand, we can see a Europe still lagging behind the USA and Japan when it comes to investing in research and innovation. On the other hand, we can see a great many tendencies in the administration of research that indicate a need for reforms. The EU Commission has put forward an idea to create a "European Research Area", that is, a Europe where research policy and research at the various levels - regional, national and European - are planned in mutual cooperation. It is here that the idea for a European Research Council becomes relevant.

What would a European Research Council be able to do better than the national research funding sources already in existence?

A European Research Council would certainly not be able to handle all the tasks that the national research councils handle today. But if with a European Research Council it were possible to increase competition between European researchers, the best research would most probably have even better conditions. I believe it would improve quality and result in a more effective allocation of research funds from which the whole of Europe would benefit. The other major advantage is, of course, that it would lead to the creation of numerous useful partnerships, not existing today, between European institutions of knowledge.

What do you think yourself? Should a European Research Council be established?

This is an even harder question to answer. As I have mentioned, the establishment of a European Research Council is still just a loose idea, and we will need to examine the practicalities more closely. It is important we gain for ourselves a clearer picture of the attitude in the other Member States before making a decision. But there is no doubt that the realisation of the European Research Area should also involve integration of research funding allocation. The question is only how this should happen. I hope that our conference can also produce some ideas on how we can begin experimenting with research co-operation "on a small scale", for example, through joint funding of certain specific themes or research fields.

Danish Presidency Website http://www.eu2002.dk/main/

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