Brussels, 19 Jan 2004
COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION
EUROPE AND BASIC RESEARCH
An important debate is taking place in Europe today on the subject of basic research, the issues involved and the best way of dealing with them at a European level.
The debate is taking place against the background of the emerging knowledge-based economy and society; within the framework of the project to create a European Research Area, which has hitherto not explicitly taken account of the issue of basic research; and together with the target set by the EU of increasing its overall research effort to 3% of GDP by 2010.
During the years immediately after the Second World War, when research policies originated and developed in Europe and the USA, the emphasis was on basic research.
This is well illustrated by what Vannevar Bush, President Roosevelt's scientific adviser, wrote in 1945 in his famous report "Science: the Endless Frontier": "Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown").
During the decades which followed and in view of the importance of science for industrial competitiveness and its role in meeting social needs, this emphasis, and with it public funding, gradually shifted towards applied research and technological and industrial development.
Today, the general value of increasing knowledge and the importance of basic research for economic and social development, tend to be fully recognised again.
The debate on basic research has so far essentially taken place within the scientific community, in the form of thinking about the need for a "Basic Research Fund" and a "European Research Council".
During the last few months, various personalities, organisations and bodies have expressed their views on this issue.
In this respect, particular mention can be made of: a group of 45 European Nobel Prize winners; the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the EuroHORCs association of Directors and Presidents of National Research Councils; the Eurosciences association and Academia Europeae, the EURAB Group of advisors for Commission research; and an ad hoc Group of individuals (ERCEG),1 which was set up during the Danish EU Presidency following a conference on a "European Research Council", held in Copenhagen on 7 and 8 October 2002.2