Brussels, 13 Jan 2005
Although no commitment to funding came out of the November Competitiveness Council, the Commission remains confident about the creation of a European Research Council (ERC), says Anastasia Andrikopoulou from the Directorate B - Restructuring the European Research Area - of the European Commission.
Speaking at a session on the future of basic research, Ms Andrikopoulou explained that decision makers at all levels are aware that basic research has an important impact on economic performance, and that a new funding mechanism is needed at European level to reinforce excellence.
'The scientific voice is getting louder and the Commission hopes it can convince the Council and Member States to give the necessary means to accomplish this,' said Ms Andrikopoulou.
The main problem, she admitted, is that the debate on the financial perspectives will last longer than the debate on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). This means that Member States are reluctant to commit to research when they are not sure what is happening in other sectors.
A second problem, added Ms Andrikopoulou, is that some Member States feel they need collaborative research to succeed and are therefore reluctant to accept funding individual teams.
Finally, said Ms Andrikopoulou, there is the technical issue of over-subscription, already a problem at present. 'If we start funding individuals, tonnes of applications will arrive, increasing the problem even more,' she explained.
'If the Commission convinces the Council to make research a major objective of the EU, this will enable the doubling of the research budget, which in turn will lead to a better balance between current and new activities, basic and applied research and human resources and infrastructures,' said Ms Andrikopoulou.
'We are also very much aware that we need to improve the administrative environment,' she added.
Turning to the subject of the structure of the future ERC, Ms Andrikopoulou explained that three options are available: an executive agency, a conventional EU agency or another structure.
'The Commission prefers the first option as it has the advantage of being already thought out and in place,' said Ms Andrikopoulou. 'The problem with the second option is the international aspect. The Commission is afraid the community aspect will be diluted as countries fight to get their share of funding,' she added.
As the structure is still under discussion, no dates have been put forward, although, as Ms Andrikopoulou warned, 'the fact that all this is legislation, means it will take long.'
For this reason, the Commission has decided to create the nucleus of the scientific council without waiting for a decision on the structure, explained Ms Andrikopoulou. 'Commissioner Potocnik has promised a Commission proposal regarding FP7 by April. Hopefully there will be a scientific council in place by then,' she said.
The scientific council, members of which will be chosen by the scientists themselves, will be invaluable for advising the Commission on the ERC, said Ms Andrikopoulou.