Brussels, 12 Sep 2003
Differences in culture and traditions certainly enrich the European Union in many ways, but in research it is shared goals and expertise which win the day. One important scheme 'ERA-NET' is doing its part to improve co-operation and coordination of national and regional research programmes across the EU.
The goal of ERA-NET is "to step up co-operation and co-ordination of research activities carried out at national and regional level" in the EU Member States and those countries 'associated' with FP6, explains a leaflet on the scheme. It is aimed mainly at national and regional research programme makers and managers who, in most cases, either work in the ministries or for national funding agencies which implement programmes on behalf of their governments.
ERA-NET funds are allocated through a so-called 'open call' for proposals procedure, which invites interested parties – who first satisfy certain criteria (see links for details) – to submit, at any time, their ideas for improving co-operation and coordination of national and regional research activities. It enables national research systems to perform tasks collectively which would prove to be unmanageable if tackled independently. The scheme emphasises a 'bottom-up' approach and is open to all scientific fields.
Proposals considered valuable to the scheme include systematic exchanges of information via, for example, short-term exchanges of research planners; strategic activities, such as ways to improve the synergy and 'mutual opening' of research systems in different countries and regions; implementing joint activities, such as shared training facilities and opening up laboratories to visiting researchers; and trans-national research to ensure that a stronger and more durable 'European Research Area' (ERA) is achieved.
Ushering in a new era
Finding ways to overcome the problem of fragmentation of research activities across the EU has been high on the policy agenda for several years. European Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin made this patently clear when he introduced the idea of an ERA to draw together the scattered centres of scientific excellence to tackle European R&D issues en force.
"In the past, collaborative actions have been initiated at European and Community level, but now is the time to bring our endeavours together and to build a research and innovation equivalent of the 'common market' for goods and services," according to the Research Directorate-General's website.
In March 2000, the Lisbon European Council adopted the ERA, laying the foundation for a common science and technology policy across the European Union. The launch of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research and technological development marked an important turning point for ERA, introducing a specific programme called 'Integrating and strengthening the European Research Area', from which the ERA-NET scheme is financed.