Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK - Research in Europe: building up and building on human resources “Forschen in Europa – Nationale und europäische Forschungsforderung”

January 24, 2006

Karlsruhe, 23 January 2006

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be at this symposium, which puts the spotlight on an issue close to my heart – how to support young people who are curious and perhaps daring enough to want to embark on a career as researchers in Europe.

The number of well respected national research organisations who are here today in my opinion clearly demonstrates that the challenge of building up and building on human resources in research is a serious matter.

And in a wider sense the “Exzellenzinitiative” that have been launched here in Germany - the “Pakt für Forschung und Innovation”, together with the confirmation of the 3% research investment objective in the federal coalition government agreement - make me believe that Germany and the Commission have a lot in common. We share not only the analysis of Europe’s challenges, but we also agree on the approach that must be taken to tackle these challenges.

Embarking on a research career is one outstanding challenge in a young person’s life. It is challenging because, to sustain a career in research, you need at least three things:

  • a good research environment;
  • an offer of attractive career prospects; and
  • systematic and considerable financial investments in the researcher’s training, mobility and career development.
Seen from a European perspective, these issues in fact boil down to making Europe more attractive for researchers and to working towards a single, open and competitive European labour market for researchers.

This pinpoints a subject not only very near to my heart but also at the core of European research policy. Before elaborating on the issue of human resources in research, allow me first to touch upon a few more general issues concerning research in Europe.

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Less than a year ago, European heads of state and government decided to reinvigorate and reinforce the European strategy for growth and jobs. This is a strategy on which Member States and the Commission can base actions to master, in a sustainable way, the dynamics of global competition. Actions that will allow us to make Europe a more attractive place to invest and work in, and to create more and better jobs.

Much of this, so-called Lisbon Strategy, focuses on what Europe can and should do best: encourage high standards of education; foster excellent research; and make room for creativity and innovation.

As regards research efforts in Europe, it is a fact that R&D investment in the EU is stagnating. Even though the Member States have set as a goal that 3% of their GDP should go to R&D by 2010, it seems that we will reach only around 2.6% if no action is taken.

What is worrying is that, at the same time, research intensity in, for example, China is growing at a rate over 10% per year. This makes it very likely that China by 2010 will devote the same share of its wealth to R&D as the EU-25. In other words: China is catching up with Europe, not Europe with the US and Japan.

Much of the indispensable increased research investment should be delivered by Member States. But national action must be complemented and reinforced by action at European level. An important European level action in research is of a financial nature, concentrated in the well-known Research Framework Programme.

Although last month’s agreement between Member States on the EU-budget for the years to come is not everything that the Commission originally requested to match the level of our ambition, we can be pleased that, from 2007, we will be able to draw on a research budget that will grow substantially in the years to come. And this is a positive sign.

What makes the Framework Programme for research so important is that it in many ways corrects market failures in research throughout Europe. In the first place, it brings dynamism into regional and national research and it fosters and spreads excellence through competition at European level. Secondly, it combats fragmentation and exerts a structuring influence on the research fabric in Member States by stimulating trans-national cooperation.

Very concretely this means that each Euro of spent on the EU Framework Programme leads to a mid- to long-term economic return of 4 to 7 Euros. This is partly because of the “crowding in” effect, where participants are willing to invest additional own resources to give them access to a wider set of knowledge and research outputs. But it is also because pooling of competences and resources increases the likelihood of breakthroughs. It is as simple as that.

The challenge now is to ensure that we can deliver as far as possible on these ambitious goals asked for by the research community and set by our European leaders.

If indeed our ambitions for research action at EU level are not matched with fully corresponding budgetary means, the Seventh Framework Programme will have to concentrate on those actions that have the most cost-effective structuring impact on the research landscape throughout Europe. It will also mean that Member States will have to take even more responsibility through their national budgets, through co-ordination between national and regional programmes, and through synergy of those programmes with FP7.

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This brings me back to the “Leitmotif” of today’s conference: regional, national and European actions aimed to support future generations of researchers.

Investment in EU research does not really make sense without sufficient, well-trained researchers in the European Union. Without researchers, Europe will not be able to secure and expand its role in science, technology and innovation.

Today’s level of around 6 researchers in every 1000 members of the workforce means that Europe employs fewer researchers that the US and Japan, although we educate more researchers here.

Apart from Europe investing less in research, there are at least two factors that can explain this paradox:

  • Many university graduates consider that there are greater financial incentives to work in other sectors rather than in research;
  • There is a strong tendency for researchers to move abroad, in particular to the United States, coupled with a reluctance to return to Europe in the absence of attractive research and career opportunities here.
So what do we have to do to make sure that all those talented, young researchers actually chooses to stay in Europe and to pursue a career in research?

Here I am not only talking of what the EU needs to do, but also the Member States, the regions, enterprises, universities and research organisations need to take action. But how?

As I see it, there are three major paths which should help to create a European labour market for researchers, which is open and competitive:

Firstly, we must continue to break down the administrative and legal obstacles to mobility of researchers, both internationally and between sectors. From the EU side, we have seen the successful introduction of the ERA-MORE network, with 200 mobility centres throughout Europe providing researchers and their families with essential, practical information needed to make their mobility experience a success.

We have also set-up a European Researchers’ Mobility Portal on the web, which is connected to national Mobility Portals, which helps you as a researcher to find training and job opportunities throughout Europe.

Maybe you have also heard of the "Researchers' visa", which was adopted in October last year. This Visa will help researchers who come from outside the EU to easier work and move around in the EU.

But important issues remain to be tackled, such as making it easier to move between sectors, and to avoid negative effects of the different social security and taxation systems. Mobile researchers present here today can probably confirm that the different social security and taxation systems in the Member States do affect your decisions on moving from one country to another. But social security and taxation are sensitive areas where EU competence is limited.

What we are trying to do at the Commission is to get a picture of how these different systems have an impact on researchers’ careers and what can be done to facilitate transition from one system to another.

Secondly, we must give the researchers’ profession and career a higher status in Europe.

One step along this way is the European Charter for Researchers and on the Code of Conduct for their Recruitment, which the Commission presented last year.

With the Charter and the Code, individual researchers should have the same rights and obligations wherever they may work throughout the EU. I am convinced, and I’m sure you can agree with me on this, that if researchers are provided with a fair professional environment with good career prospects, then it will be more attractive to stay in, come to, or return to Europe, and thereby contribute to realising Europe’s knowledge society.

I was very pleased that last November the German University Rectors Conference decided to endorse and implement the principles laid out in the Charter and Code. I am also happy to say that elsewhere in Europe the formal endorsement and practical uptake is also taking-off very well indeed.

As I said, we need to improve the recognition of the researchers’ role and the fact that your contribution to society and to citizens’ welfare is essential. We need to attract more young people to enter the research profession.

To give a human face to research and encourage more people to consider a research career, we need to give the public a chance to find out about the work researchers do and career prospects in science. Substantially more must be done to make researchers and their activities less obscure with a view to enticing more people into this fascinating profession.

The third path towards the development of a genuine European labour market for researchers, Ladies and Gentlemen, leads me back to the Commission’s proposal for the Seventh Framework Programme. FP7 will invest, systematically and considerably, in researchers’ training, mobility and career development. Through the “People” programme, the “Marie Curie Actions” in FP7 will focus more strongly than ever before on:

  • structuring of research training throughout Europe;
  • increasing the participation of industry in researchers’ training and career development for and in different sectors; and
  • reinforcing the international dimension in researchers’ career development.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, before I conclude I would like to say a few words on universities in Europe.

Europe’s future as a knowledge economy is closely linked to the future we foresee for our universities. Clearly, the main actors are situated at the national level, and more specifically here at the level of the Länder. But the EU also has a role to play: both through its funding programmes - and here there is ample room for university participation in all four specific programmes of FP7- and by giving political impulses to create the best framework conditions for university based research.

The EU has recognised this and it therefore taking extra action to look at what we can do in Europe to foster world-class universities that give us world-class students and researchers. Shortly we will come forward with a policy document which specifically tackles Universities and Research.

In this document, we look at:

  • how to further professionalize the way research is conducted and managed;
  • how to respond effectively to the increasing complexity and pace in research;
  • how to establish partnership with the business community and exploiting scientific knowledge more effectively;
  • how to manage funding portfolios in the light of universities’ autonomy;
  • and how to manage human resources by offering sustainable research careers.
It is my hope and expectation that our document shall stimulate a broad and lively debate and I hope that German universities will play an active role.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, only if we make Europe more attractive for researchers can research can play its fullest possible role in realising the knowledge-based economy that is so essential for the sustained competitiveness of Europe in an increasingly globalised world.

In order to maximise the effect, we need to combine our efforts on this key objective at regional, national and European level. Awareness of what is on offer at different levels of programmes, which in fact we are looking at specifically today, is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition. We need to go further, if we believe – as I do - that knowledge, in its triangle of education, research and innovation, is the best and possibly the only way forward in meeting Europe’s challenges.

Thank you.

Item source: SPEECH/06/24 Date: 23/01/2006 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item

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