Brussels, 17 Feb 2004
Ireland's Minister for Enterprise has given her support to calls for 'a specific EU initiative designed to stimulate the quality of basic research'.
Speaking at a symposium in Dublin, Ireland, on 16 February, Ms Harney said that the best way to improve the EU's research and development (R&D) performance would be to generate competition between the continent's best researchers. The initiative should involve independent global peer review, and should be set in place with a minimum of bureaucracy, she added.
'I do not want to pre-empt the work of the symposium, but I believe we should move swiftly and with determination to develop such an initiative,' said Ms Harney. 'A clear focus on scientific research, which is the field that drives innovation and growth, and the prioritising of particular areas of research for targeted EU funding, is not incompatible with a flexible new mechanism to implement such an initiative with a minimum of red tape,' she said.
The minister's statement comes in the wake of a communication from the European Commission setting the stage for a debate within the European institutions on possible forms of support for basic research in Europe. A popular option among many in the scientific community is the establishment of a European Research Council (ERC). While the particular form of support to be introduced is not yet clear, the Commission's commitment to giving increased assistance to basic research is, as evidenced by the Commission's 'financial perspectives' for 2007 until 2013. The proposal foresees a specific funding instrument for the fundamental research fields.
Ms Harney justified her call for a focused and bureaucracy-free initiative with a few words on just such an approach in Ireland: 'To date, Science Foundation Ireland has committed 320 million euro in research investments and it has achieved this with a core staff of 30 people, guided by a board of top quality people from the worlds of science and business. All this confirms that excellence in science, and focus and direction, are not mutually exclusive,' she said. 'It also shows the value of an approach which is lean and effective and not hamstrung by bureaucracy.'
Ms Harney said that global competition for technology and scientific talent is increasing, and that Europe is already lagging behind when it should be leading. She appealed to Member States to re-examine their procedures for transforming research into commercial applications. European universities have a lot to learn from their US counterparts, she added, particularly in terms of understanding that partnership with industry is vital as a gateway to private funding and expertise.
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