Brussels, 31 Jan 2006
The governing body of the proposed European Research Council (ERC), the Scientific Council, met on 24 and 25 January in order to discuss its scientific strategy and operating arrangements. In particular, the council decided to set up two funding streams: one to establish and support excellent, early-stage, independent researchers, and the other to give broader support for excellent and innovative frontier research projects, carried out by individual teams and led by researchers of any level of experience.
The European Commission proposed the creation of the ERC in its proposals for a Seventh Framework Programme for research and development (FP7) in order to fund fundamental, investigator-led research through Europe-wide competition. The council's scientific strategy for the ERC intends the two funding streams to meet the central objective of boosting European excellence in frontier research through science-driven funding, while also addressing the inadequate support in many parts of Europe for researchers to achieve independence at an early stage. The ERC would thus aim to help fill this gap in order to retain top scientific talent for the next generation.
Noting the need for cross-fertilisation at the interfaces between scientific fields, as well as excellence in individual areas, the Scientific Council declared that its early strategy development would include considerations of how to support interdisciplinary research. Application procedures and peer review methods should be designed accordingly, to allow consistent evaluation of proposals across all disciplines, including those that bridge traditional boundaries.
The council also considered how to maximise the positive impact of the ERC on European research, developing a distinctive and recognisable profile for its programmes that would demonstrate its usefulness beyond the initial seven-year term currently proposed. In order to open its funding activities to the widest possible competition across Europe, it should aim to learn from and complement existing successful national, European and international programmes. The Scientific Council singled out the Marie-Curie scheme for training and mobility as one such example.
While disagreements still exist between the European Commission and European Parliament as to whether the ERC should be set up as an executive agency or as an Article 171 initiative, the Scientific Council has addressed the organisational arrangements. In order to maintain coherence between strategy and implementing structure, the council has decided on establishing a five person Management Board, to include a Secretary General, the President and Vice Presidents of the Scientific Council, and the Director of the implementing agency.
The Secretary General of the ERC is to be recruited through an open search procedure. The Scientific Council noted that a suitable candidate for this position would have to be a respected scientist with wide experience of basic research funding at the highest level. Furthermore, he or she would need to be able to command international respect from peers, and have the vision, authority and track record to manage a major European initiative. The search procedure also needs to allow sufficient time to set up the operation of the ERC under FP7, scheduled to begin in 2007.