Commission wields scissors at red tape

August 17, 2001

Much needs to be done to make mobility between different European Union countries a reality for researchers, according to a study undertaken for the European Commission.

The report, released by the commission's directorate general for research, says: "Researchers, particularly those from third (non-EU) countries, face a plethora of administrative obstacles to transnational mobility.

"Third country researchers, or those with third country family members, face cumbersome problems with visa, residence permit and work-permit requirements.

"Furthermore, immigration restrictions often make it impossible for non-EU nationals to take up residence in the host country for more than short stays or for employment."

But there are also problems for researchers from EU countries, says the report. Differences in social security and tax systems between member states can make it unattractive for some to move from countries with a high level of security benefits, for example, especially those with long periods of maternity leave, or with low tax jurisdictions.

In some cases, says the report, expatriate researchers have to pay for benefits such as unemployment insurance.

The report concludes: "The risk of double taxation and loss of pension contributions further reduces the appeal of moving abroad to do research work."

But all is not lost, according to the report, which highlights good practice. In France, holders of scientific visas are exempt from work permits. Permits are automatically issued for spouses of researchers. The United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands and France provide internet sites with nationwide information on opportunities and regulations, making it easier for researchers to negotiate their way round the plethora of rules and laws restricting movement and employment.

* Three institutes at the EU's Joint Research Centre at Ispra, Italy, will be scrapped from September 1 as part of a major overhaul.

The JRC's Space Applications Institute, Environment Institute, and Institute for Systems, Informatics and Safety will be scrapped and their work incorporated into other JRC units. Jobs will be shed in the reorganisation.

Two new units will be created: an Institute for Environment and Sustainability, combining EI and SAI expertise to provide scientific and technical support to EU strategies; and an Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, to support EU citizen protection policies, including cybersecurity, anti-fraud measures, humanitarian security, nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation.

The move, according to a JRC briefing note, "aims to reduce costs" and to allow Ispra research teams to have an "increased focus on two key policy areas, namely the environment and health and safety (citizens and consumers)".

It adds that the JRC was "keen to emphasise that this will not entail any compromise of its expertise in space technologies", which would be redeployed to be allied with work on other technologies "to support EU policies".

Ispra's Institute for Health and Consumer Protection will remain "mostly untouched".

The shake-up at Ispra follows a finding of maladministration at the JRC Directorate of Resources, also at Ispra. The European ombudsman found it guilty of "poor treatment of staff, poor treatment of grant holders, unfair contract clauses and unacceptable recruitment procedures".

* The JRC has called for students to apply for PhD and post-doctoral fellowships. Applications are open to scientists aged 35 or under from EU and EFTA member states. The deadline for applications is September 15 2001.

Forms can be downloaded from the JRC website: http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int/

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