Brussels, 09 Jul 2004
Sensing that the debate surrounding a European Research Council (ERC) has begun to crystallise sufficiently, the heads of Europe's research councils, EUROHORCs, have defined the key principles that they feel should be applied when creating the body.
In offering to help establish an ERC, EUROHORCs have produced a position paper which they say is intended to speak to the research community in Europe as well as to future 'owners' of the body, both funders and general stakeholders.
The document contains no great departures from previous contributions to the debate from other organisations, calling as it does for a lean and independent organisation to grant funds to individual basic research teams in all fields, solely on the basis of scientific excellence. The paper does, however, contain some detailed proposals for the governance of an ERC, under the responsibility of a governing council, as well as its initial instrument of funding.
'The EUROHORCs are publishing these principles now because the prospects for the funding of basic research by an organisation established outside the European Commission as part of the Seventh Framework Programme for 2006 to 2010 are now quite good,' reads a EUROHORCs statement.
The President of EUROHORCs, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, added: 'The fact that politicians in Europe, the governments and the commissions, are working to agree on support for basic research is a breakthrough. That they seek to support and to hold a dialogue with the science and research communities [...] is an opportunity. Now is the time to take this opportunity.'
The position paper, which represents the views of 37 research council presidents from 20 European countries, states that the concept of an ERC forms a cornerstone of the European Research Area, and would help to advance European competitiveness in research and scholarship on a global scale.
They call for the ERC to be granted a constitution that will put it 'at arm's length' from the Commission and governmental authorities. Its highly professional yet lean administrative structure should be headed by a governing council, composed of researchers 'of the highest reputation'.
The governing council would take ultimate responsibility for funding decisions, strategy and ongoing evaluation, and would be accountable to the 'owners' of the ERC. The statement stresses that although the members of the governing council should represent all areas of research, 'quotas for particular scientific fields, regional distribution, gender and age must be avoided', and there must be no institutional representation of scientific or other European bodies and institutions.
Lastly, on the question of what funding instruments the ERC should employ, EUROHORCs argue that while ultimately a range of instruments will have to be developed, it would be useful to start with just one - the funding of individual researchers and their teams through flexible grants that don't require specific deliverables and which cover the full cost of the research. To read the document of key principles, please: click here