Brussels, 22 Nov 2002
A discussion paper prepared for the Commission has concluded that the European Research Area (ERA) policies must avoid a 'one size fit' definition of national research programmes, and recognise the different funding arrangements that exist in each Member State.
The report examines national research structures in the field of social and human sciences (SHS) for each EU country, and makes recommendations on how to prepare this area of research for inclusion in the ERA. The area of SHS research provides an interesting basis for such a study because it typically receives less funding than more traditional areas of science, and the contribution of EU funding to this field is significant, even in larger countries.
The paper's author, Dr John H Smith, concludes that there are no fewer that five categories of funding arrangement for national research programmes into which different Member States fall. For example, the UK and Nordic countries have systems based on research councils that fund both initiative (thematic) and responsive (curiosity-based) programmes. France and Italy, however, use research institutions rather than research councils as their channels for funds, and Germany's activities are primarily focussed towards responsive programmes.
With regards to the enlargement process, the report goes on to warn that: 'None of the [...] five 'types' of national funding arrangements can be used to describe those prevailing currently in Central- Eastern European EU candidate countries,' suggesting that ERA policies will have to be flexible and adaptable.
The existence of a general split between Northern European countries, which do have thematic research elements in their programmes, and Southern European states, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, which focus more on responsive initiatives, leads the report to warn against creating a 'north-south divide' by not taking this fact into account.
The report includes recommendations on how to implement the ERA in this field of science, including the establishment of consultative mechanisms between the Commission and relevant professional associations, as well as a pilot scheme to create an EU framework for policy debate.
The Commission should also work together with national research agencies, says the author, to initiate a dialogue with the directors of research institutes whose programmes match the thematic priorities of FP6.
The paper concludes by saying that one of the biggest challenges facing the implementation of the ERA will be 'to recruit and engage high quality researchers from across the various national research communities who have acquired skills and experience of research innovation at both national and European level.' It is the research communities themselves, says the report, that truly define 'national programmes', thus the guiding principle of the ERA must be 'to place trust in researchers to develop critical and innovative approaches to tackle societal problems.'