Countering the fragmentation of European research

December 12, 2003

Brussels, 11 December 2003

Today in Brussels the Commission announced the first results of the new EU-funded €148 million ERA-NET scheme, aimed at networking national research programmes. In the first wave, 32 promising cross-border initiatives have been selected for funding, including projects to co-ordinate medical emergency response across Europe, research on the ageing population, and marine sciences in the Baltic sea. ERA-NET fosters co-operation and co-ordination of national R&D funding schemes inter alia to enable them to address issues they could not solve alone. The scheme also provides an incentive to national administrations to launch joint research projects, with the EU co-financing a part of the initiative. This aims to help Member States overcome the scattering and duplication of their research efforts a major obstacle in the creation of the European Research Area, a true internal market for science and knowledge.

"The core message of the European Research Area is the need to overcome the traditional fragmentation of research efforts in Europe through better co-ordination and co-operation" says European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "The EU Sixth Research Framework Programme strives to overcome this problem through projects like the new and highly innovative ERA-NET scheme. The scheme provides support for transnational networking and co-ordination of national research programmes. Up to now, there was little co-operation between research projects funded by the national research bodies. As a result, key resources were wasted through duplication, dispersion and overlapping; and bigger projects were often not undertaken due to the inability to gather the necessary critical mass. The first results of the ERA-NET scheme are encouraging and indicate that we are entering into a new era."

Bridging gaps

The scheme's participants are programme managers working in national ministries and funding agencies. 422 funding agencies have been involved in the submission of proposals so far. This positive echo to the initiative shows that there is a real commitment to transnational co-ordination among national ministries, research councils and agencies responsible for the funding and management of national and regional research programmes.

The ERA-NET scheme

The ERA-NET scheme is designed to encourage the creation of close, long-term links between national research programmes with shared goals. It will contribute to the creation of the European Research Area by facilitating practical initiatives to co-ordinate regional, national and European research programmes in specific fields, and to pool fragmented human and financial resources in order to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of Europe's research efforts.

A step-by-step approach

In the short term, most ERA-NET projects will approach such collaboration step by step, for example through initiatives to map current research funding programmes, and through regular workshops designed to improve mutual understanding and trust. This will make it possible to identify gaps, overlaps and possible synergies, and will, in most cases, lead to the rapid spread of better practice in proposal evaluation and other aspects of programme management, providing a sound basis for experimental joint activities.

Long-lasting co-operation

Ultimately, ERA-NETs are expected to lead to significant collaboration, including the strategic planning and design of joint research programmes, the reciprocal opening of national research programmes to researchers from other member countries, the organisation of joint calls for proposals, and the launch of jointly funded, fully transnational programmes. Some ERA-NET projects may also lead to initiatives under Article 169 of the EU Treaty, whereby the EU participates in research programmes jointly undertaken by several Member States.

Co-ordination and Specific Support actions

The main instrument for implementing the ERA-NET scheme is the Co-ordination Action (CA). These are networks that already have a sufficiently large and active transnational membership to begin practical collaboration and can launch the implementation phase of their ERA-NET immediately. However, in the case of networks still lacking this critical mass, the Specific Support Action (SSA) can be used for an initial preparatory phase, lasting up to 12 months.

Results of the first evaluation

The open call for proposals, published on 17 December 2002, received a very positive response. The first deadline to present proposals was 3 June 2003, with a budget of €35 million. Seventy-two proposals involving 422 funding agencies were submitted for this first ERA-NET evaluation (held from 23- June 2003). Following the evaluation, 32 proposals were selected, of which 14 are Co-ordination Actions and 18 are Specific Support Actions in fields from life sciences to industrial technologies (Annex II).

Joint pilot calls for proposals

Many ERA-NET projects are ambitious. Nearly all Co-ordination Actions plan to organise a common or joint call. These will be pilot actions related to existing national programmes, based on strategic decisions taken by 'programme owners' (the national ministries). Normally several partners will participate in these "pilot calls", and it is expected that each network will have at least one test case with 3-4 participating programmes. 12 Co-ordination Actions intend to develop draft joint programmes between the national programmes involved. Additionally, three networks plan further actions, such as joint facility or laboratory use.

Further proposals welcome

The European Commission, meanwhile, is willing to support new ERA-NET projects in research fields not yet covered. Further evaluations of proposals will be carried out following deadlines set for 2 March 2004, 5 October 2004, 2 March 2005 and 4 October 2005. A total of €148 million has been allocated to the ERA-NET scheme for the life of FP6.

Full information , including all the documentation required to prepare and submit a proposal, is available at:

http://www.cordis.lu/coordination/era-net.htm

ANNEX I

Three examples of successful Co-ordination Action projects from the first ERA-NET evaluation

Medical emergencies

    Preventing a crisis in medical emergency research
Europe deals with 100 million medical emergencies each year, ranging from heart attacks to natural disasters. The infrastructure to respond to these events varies considerably between countries. Particular concerns about bio-terrorism and new diseases show that Europe must be prepared to respond to these threats at a transnational level. The HESCULAEP co-ordination action has been created to overcome the drawbacks of research fragmentation and provide the infrastructure for long-term co-operation in the organisation of research. By comparing and benchmarking national programmes, the partners will identify future areas for collaborative research and possible joint programmes. Greater co-operation will help to ensure that citizens receive the same level of medical emergency response, wherever they are in Europe.

For further information:

Dr. Michel Baer, SAMU 92, France

Fax: + 33 1 47 10 70 11

Email: michel.baer@samu.org

Ageing

    The age of longevity
An ageing population is among Europe's most pressing problems. But the efficiency and impact of international and interdisciplinary research efforts are constrained by fragmentation. National and transnational programme co-ordination is lacking, and institutional bottlenecks hamper the take-up and spread of good practice and new knowledge. The ERA-AGE network will bring together research programmes and funding from 14 European countries, which actively support research on ageing. A systematic process of mapping activity, identifying and sharing good practice, and defining common objectives and mechanisms will lead to joint research activities, under the management of a permanent forum of national research programme managers.

For further information:

Professor Alan Walker, The University of Sheffield (NCAR), United Kingdom

Fax: + 44 1142 226 492

Email: liz.johnson@shef.ac.uk

Baltic Sea

    Getting the best from the Baltic
The Baltic Sea is Europe's largest internal body of water, and represents an important natural resource. Its sustainable development requires regional policies based on sound scientific knowledge. Several associations link marine scientists from the nine countries bordering the Baltic Sea, but joint planning of these countries' national research programmes has never taken place. The BONUS network brings together 11 organisations involved in the funding and organisation of Baltic marine science to pool their research funding and co-ordinate the use of infrastructures. Sharing good practice in programme management and removing administrative barriers will pave the way for joint research programmes. New structures created by the BONUS consortium will be responsible for fully integrated programme funding and management.

For further information:

Dr. Kaisa Kononen, Academy of Finland, Finland

Fax: 358 9 77488395

Email: kaisa.kononen@aka.fi

ANNEX II

' Submitted'Retained ' AreaCAsSSAsTotal
Fundamental research
6202Social sciences
11156
Life sciences (food safety, agriculture, medical and biotech)
223811
Environment, energy and fisheries15325
Industrial technologies (ICT, transport, aeronautics, space, materials, processes)18538
Total 72141832
[Table and further information]

DN: IP/03/1707 Date: 11/12/2003

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