Brussels, 13 Nov 2002
Participants in a round table discussion on the coordination of European research were divided over the issue of whether a European Research Council (ERC) would improve cooperation within the European research community on 12 November.
The round table was held during the Sixth Framework Programme launch conference in Brussels, and brought together senior figures from European research. The panel looked at ways in which the coordination of research in Europe could be improved, and gave their views on whether this process would benefit from the establishment of an ERC.
Sir George Radda, Chief Executive of the UK's Medical Research Council, felt that an ERC would do little to enhance European coordination: 'In my view, cooperation would be hindered by the creation of a European Research Council, because when people discuss the scope and structure of such an organisation, everybody is talking about something different,' he said.
Other panellists agreed on the need for further dialogue before an effective ERC could become a reality. Mr Alain Costes, Director of the French Ministry of Research and Technology, said that a 'detailed definition of the goals, objectives and funding of an ERC needs to take place before it could become a reality,' and added that 'an ERC is a very good idea, but it is only one idea.'
The Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Danish Ministry of Research and Information, Knud Larsen, was in favour of setting up an ERC, but added a note of realism in terms of what it could achieve. 'A European Research Council is not some magical instrument, it would be a complementary move,' he said. 'As a means of boosting cooperation among Europe's national research councils, a non-disciplinary ERC would be very useful.'
Reinder Van Duinen, President of the European Science Foundation (ESF), questioned the need for a European Research Council, asking why existing organisations such as the ESF would not be able to coordinate research efforts just as effectively. He warned that: 'We need to be very cautious about setting up an ERC as, if done wrong, it could impede rather than support cooperation.'
The majority of the panellists expressed the view that the real key to increased coordination of European research lies with national research councils (NRCs). As Sir George Radda explained: 'The true strength of European research is the wealth of knowledge found within the national research councils.' He proposed that this knowledge be brought together 'not by the creation of a European Research Council, but through NRCs working more closely together, as this will ensure that contact with the respective scientific communities they represent is not lost.'