The creation of the first European Research Council was outlined this week in proposals for the European Commission's next round of research grants.
The Commission presented its plans for the Seventh Framework Programme, which will run from 2007 to 2013, to the European Parliament this week.
The idea of an ERC has long been mooted but this is the first time it has been proposed as a formal part of a framework programme. Basic research has been funded before, but under FP7 such initiatives were consolidated in one place and overseen by an independent body.
The plans for the ERC will mean that, in theory, any academic will be able to apply for research funds and they will be assessed solely on excellence of research. Details are yet to be ironed out on who will make judgements and what criteria will be used.
The Commission's proposals suggest more of the overhead costs of research projects will be paid under FP7. More detail will emerge in summer when the "rules of participation" are announced.
The Commission's proposal earmarks €73.2 billion (£50.1 billion) for projects under FP7, but this figure has to be approved by European Union member states and the European Parliament.
To meet this level of funding, a rise in EU member state contributions from 1 per cent of gross domestic product to 1.4 per cent would be needed.
Members are negotiating the overall budget, but the UK, which holds the rolling presidency of Europe from June, is against contributing more. If unresolved, this could delay FP7's implementation.
The nine research areas of the present FP6 remain largely the same in FP7.
The Commission proposal earmarks: €8.3 billion for health; €2.4 billion for biotechnology, food and agriculture; €12.7 billion for information society; €4.8 billion for nanotechnology, materials and production; €2.95 billion for energy; €2.5 billion for environment; €5.9 billion for transport; €0.7 billion for socioeconomic research, and €3.9 billion for security and space research.
Universities UK said: "This document is saying the right things, it proposes a streamlined programme and there is a lot of continuity, which is helpful.
"These are promising proposals, particularly the increased budget; the UK could benefit, but an agreement has to be reached on the overall budget first."
UUK also welcomed an ERC based on research excellence, which it has campaigned for.