A radical programme to integrate the European Union's research activities has been set up by EU government leaders, with potentially far-reaching implications for universities, research organisations and companies in all 15 member countries.
The programme, launched at last week's EU Lisbon summit, is the boldest approach taken so far for EU research collaboration and the first for which concessionary loans from the European Investment Bank (totalling about Pounds 10 billion) will be available.
The new European Research Area will "develop appropriate mechanisms for networking national and joint research programmes on a voluntary basis" and will aim "to map by 2001 research and development excellence in all member states".
EU member states committed themselves to using "tax policies, venture capital and EIB support" to improve the research climate. They are to develop an open method of coordination for benchmarking national research and development policies and to identify, by June 2000, "indicators for assessing performance in different fields, in particular with regard to the development of human resources".
The council also agreed to set up a "European innovation scoreboard" by June 2001 and, by the end of that year, an electronic network for scientific communication "linking research institutions and universities, as well as scientific libraries, scientific centres and, progressively, schools". By the end of 2001 a cheap, simplified and comprehensive community patent is also meant to be available.