Brussels, 09 Oct 2003
On the day that a panel of Nobel Laureates visited Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin in Brussels to discuss the establishment of a European Research Council (ERC), the Commission indicated that such a body could be up and running by 2005 if all goes according to plan.
Mr Busquin announced that the Commission would publish a communication within the year endorsing the creation of such a body to fund and promote fundamental research at a European level. More details on the structure and financing of the proposed ERC would be provided in a second communication in 2004, a spokesperson for Mr Busquin added.
On 8 October, five leading scientists met with Mr Busquin to discuss a letter sent to him on behalf of 45 Nobel Laureates, calling on the Commission to promote the creation of an ERC. According to the letter, existing EU research programmes do not provide enough support for the specific needs of fundamental research, and an ERC is vital for the development of European competitiveness.
Outlining why he felt that current EU funding mechanisms were not suited to promoting curiosity led research, Professor Tim Hunt said: 'Drawing up a contract for someone to make a fundamental discovery is missing the point. Discoveries crop up where you least expect them.'
Another Nobel Laureate, Sir James Black, added that in his opinion: 'Being curious is a defining condition of modern humanity. If we have any thought for our future, we must invest some of our wealth on the long term creation of new knowledge.'
For his part, Mr Busquin appeared receptive to the scientists' calls. He stressed that further discussion was necessary to reach agreement on how to structure an ERC, but said that such a body would operate at EU level, focus on the promotion of excellence, and retain a high degree of scientific autonomy. The key, he said, would be to promote competition amongst the best basic research teams in Europe.
On the crucial question of financing, Mr Busquin said: 'We must decide how to provide an ERC with the significant resources it requires if it is not to become simply an additional layer of bureaucracy.' Asked how much funding the body might expect to receive, the Commissioner said: 'As much as possible, but certainly several hundred million euro.'
With a number of high profile groups having already called for an ERC supported entirely by Community funds, the Commission refused to speculate on where it thought the money should come from.
A spokesperson for Mr Busquin said: 'Whether funding for an ERC will come from the Framework Programme budget, from other EU sources, or will include contributions from Member States and industry, it is too early to say. What we do not want to do is kill the idea at this early stage by getting caught up in a discussion on funding.'