Brussels, 12 May 2004
Speaking in Brussels on 11 May 2004, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin expressed his hope that a European Research Council (ERC) for fundamental research would be agreed during the Dutch Presidency, which will run from July to December 2004.
The idea of setting up an agency based on the model of the National Science Foundation in the US is something about which Member States are very positive, he said. Indeed, at the last Competitiveness Council, ministers recognised the 'need to strengthen basic research at the European level'.
Mr Busquin explained that the agency would be totally independent and would consist of a European scientific senate and an executive council composed exclusively of scientists. Thus, research would not be determined by national governments but by researchers themselves.
The executive council would define the objectives, the programmes and the methods of evaluation in all research fields. The council would be allocated a budget, which it would then distribute to researchers in the form of bursaries. The idea would be to put scientists in competition with one another in order to promote competition based on peer review.
The problem in Europe at the moment, said Mr Busquin, is that the best European scientists are not brought together to compete at European level. 'We must stop working at a national level and move towards a European level,' he stated. 'We need to bring our best scientists together so they can gain more visibility at the global level so that we can finally rival the US.'
Mr Busquin explained that this new approach is based on the realisation that fundamental research works best as an individual effort rather than a collaborative effort. As collaboration is difficult, it is therefore almost impossible to integrate fundamental research into a network of excellence. Networks of excellence, said Mr Busquin, work better with applied research.
Another reason for the important shift towards fundamental research, explained the Commissioner, is the increasing pressure from the industry for public bodies to finance fundamental research, and to leave applied research to the private sector.
Mr Busquin also said that included in the next Framework Programme, which will start in 2007, will be a section entirely devoted to fundamental research. A Commission communication on the matter will be published shortly.