Brussels, 24 Nov 2004
The similarities between current EU and UK research thinking were outlined at the 20th birthday celebrations of the UK Research Office (UKRO) in Brussels, Belgium, on 23 November.
The synergies were evident in the addresses of Sir Keith O'Nions, Director General of the UK research councils, and Achilleas Mitsos, Director General of the European Commission's Research DG.
Science and research have now taken centre stage within both the UK and the EU at large, with politicians at both levels seeking to increase levels of investment. While the EU as a whole is seeking to increase research investment to three per cent of GDP, the UK has set its own target of raising its spending from the current 1.9 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent by 2014, the end of it's ten year framework plan.
'This is a huge task and we shouldn't underestimate the magnitude of it,' said Sir Keith. 'It means that the private sector has to increase investment by 50 per cent, and that is a lot considering the fact that we only have two or three sectors that are really research intensive.'
Another area being tackled with some urgency at both EU and UK level is research infrastructure. The UK has drawn up a 'large facilities roadmap', realising both the importance of acquiring large scale infrastructure, and that the country has to focus its priorities as it cannot do everything.
Dr Mitsos indicated that the Commission has ambitious plans for research infrastructure, saying that infrastructure represents 'maybe the biggest failure of FP6', as proposals in this area were rejected by the Council. 'We must ensure that we're not going to repeat ourselves in FP7,' he added.
Both speakers indicated their support for the proposed European Research Council (ERC). The concept still presents challenges, as outlined by Dr Mitsos. It requires financial means, as well as some classification in terms of how it will complement current EU as well as national research funding, he said.
Dr Mitsos also agreed with Sir Keith on the need for the ERC's autonomy and focus on excellence. Sir Keith emphasised that the UK is 'absolutely and firmly behind' the ERC, and that he would like to see it funding close to the full costs of research.
Other challenges occupying the Commission, as outlined by Dr Mitsos, concern ensuring a balance between continuity in terms of collaborative research and 'changing what needs to be changed', linking research priorities to public and industry needs, and increasing researcher mobility.
Sir Keith and Dr Mitsos viewed the successes of UKRO, the Brussels base of the UK research councils, differently. The office was the first of its kind to be established in Brussels in 1984. While Sir Keith praised the increased participation in the EU framework programmes by UK research teams, for which, he said, UKRO has been responsible, Dr Mitsos claimed that UKRO's main achievement has been its influence on 'the EU way of seeing things and the way we are designing the present and the future.'
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