Brussels, 26 Sep 2003
A European Research Council (ERC) should be created, and should manage a fund for basic research financed with EU money, an interim report by an expert group has concluded.
The European Research Council Expert Group (ERCEG) was set up by Denmark's Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Helge Sander, during the Danish EU Presidency, with the aim of debating the purpose and scope of an ERC, as well as options for its possible creation. The final report will be delivered to EU research ministers in December 2003.
The group concludes that there are 'compelling reasons for adopting a European research policy involving new funding mechanisms for basic and strategic, investigator-driven research, in particular the setting up of a European Research Fund for Basic Research. In order to be credible and efficient, such a fund must be managed at arms length from the political system.'
The report finds that an ERC should be the institution to manage such a fund, although it is emphasised that the institution would have to have clear political accountability and a considerable degree of scientific autonomy.
Funding for the ERC should come from a specific line in the EU's budget, approved by the European Parliament, claims the report - a view that the Commission has previously appeared reluctant to support. As the EU Treaty currently stands, this would mean directing a specific line in the budget of the EU's Framework Programmes towards the ERC.
'In this way it is possible to establish the ERC as an independent entity within the EU budget, but at the same time defend the operational autonomy and flexibility which are so important for the quality of its work and for its credibility in the research community,' states the report.
The ERCEG is keen to emphasise, however, that the ERC should not be created at the expense of existing and well functioning national or European research activities. The ERC should, therefore, not be established unless 'additional and substantial funding for basic research is provided in the EU budget.'
In another move to avoid the mis-use of valuable resources, the group also insists on a sunset clause: 'The setting up of the ERC should be seen as temporary until it has proved its value. Its work and impact should be evaluated after e.g. seven years, and depending on the outcome of this evaluation and the situation at that time, a decision should be taken to close it down or to continue its operation.'
The mission of the ERC should be made clear in a charter, claims the report. It should include the promotion of scientific excellence as a basis for social, cultural and technological progress through the funding of internationally excellent research. Another priority would be to strengthen the European Research Area (ERA), particularly through using European funding competitions to encourage the raising of scientific excellence.
The report is to now be distributed to national ministries and research organisations with the hope of facilitating a broad consultation process. Results from the consultations will be taken into account when the ERCEG writes its final report.
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