Brussels, 08 Dec 2005
Access to effective research infrastructures in Europe is a key factor for competitiveness in both fundamental and applied research, said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik in Nottingham, the UK, on 6 December.
Mr Potocnik began by putting research infrastructures into the broader context of the 'Lisbon strategy', born five years ago, and the simultaneous launch of efforts to create an internal market for research, a 'European Research Area'. He also referred to the agreement at the Barcelona European Council on boosting the level of research funding to three per cent of GDP by 2010. Disappointing performances thus far prompted, early in 2005, a reorientation of the strategy with more focus on growth and employment, simplification and national ownership via national action plans.
The Commissioner noted that the growing recognition of innovation as an important driver of economic growth, its positioning at the core of the renewed Lisbon strategy, and the Commission's proposals for FP7 that call for a doubling of the research budget, have moved research and innovation into the centre stage of political debate.
The Commissioner pointed that the current panorama as regards investment and performance in R&D in Europe is far from ideal: stagnating investments, decreasing private R&D funding and an emerging trend of European companies outsourcing for R&D in countries like China or India, not only due to cheap labour costs but also to the knowledge environment that these countries are creating.
Mr Potocnik insisted that the moment of truth has arrived, and that Member States now have possibility to turn the current crisis into an opportunity in their hands.
The Commissioner deplored that, in spite of the recent mention of research and innovation as priorities in the National Reform Programmes intended to implement the Lisbon strategy, signs of commitment are not very encouraging.
The Commissioner referred to research infrastructures as 'highways to generate knowledge'. He said that 'adequate research infrastructures are also vital to promoting innovation by offering the necessary conditions and the critical mass to carry out cutting edge research. This should be translated in particular into specific requirements for the construction of new pan-European research infrastructures, for their integration at European level, as well as for the provision of better access for all scientists.'
Noting that a European policy on research infrastructures provides much needed added value to the European Research Area, by pooling talent, maximising resources and generating a strategic vision for European research, Mr Potocnik highlighted that the proposals under FP7 are to increase support for the use, operation and integration of existing research infrastructures, and to reinforce support for the construction of new research infrastructures in order to complement and enhance national efforts to provide all of the required state-of-the-art facilities.
'Funding the construction of new infrastructures affects the direction of research for many years. It is therefore vital to define priorities well, and to establish a clear prioritisation process enabling funding of the most important projects needed in Europe in the next ten to 20 years,' declared the Commissioner.
The strategic vision that should underlie these decisions is guided by the work of the ESFRI, launched in April 2002 to support a coherent approach to policy-making on research infrastructures in Europe. Mr Potocnik expressed his conviction that the European Roadmap will greatly help the European research community to respond to renewed challenges by facilitating the concentration of efforts towards commonly agreed objectives in order to develop the next generation of pan-European research infrastructures.
The Commissioner concluded by a call to political leaders, in this period of crucial decisions affecting EU's future, to support building a knowledge society, with research at the heart of the process, as the best, if not the only, way to sustain the European model of society without having to make a trade-off between economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection.