The European Research Area: The Member States must do more, says the Commission

October 17, 2002

Brussels, 16 October 2002

Philippe Busquin, the European Research Commissioner today put forward suggestions for promoting the European Research Area initiative. The communication entitled "Providing new momentum for the European Research Area" suggests that the mechanisms for coordinating national research policies should be strengthened and made more efficient. To this end, it proposes that common objectives should be determined and translated into specific objectives for each country and that annual national reports should be drawn up. This mechanism would be implemented by high-level representatives of the Member States. Greater use should also be made of legal measures, for example concerning the mobility of researchers. Launched at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, the European Research Area initiative has become the reference framework for research policy in Europe. Its objective is both to create a genuine "internal market" in research and knowledge, and improve the coordination of national research activities and policies.

Philippe Busquin, the European Research Commissioner, said: "Thirty months after it was launched, the European Research Area initiative can be said to have reshaped the European Research policy landscape. The national research organisations are starting to define their activities in relation to it, and it has given rise to concrete achievements. However, the initiative is suffering from the fact that the Member States are still showing insufficient commitment. The involvement of the national administrations in the various activities needs to be stimulated, and mechanisms should be put in place to help improve the coordination of national research policies".

Making a reality of the European Research Area

The European Research Area is an important component in achieving the objective of making the EU the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy. Apart from the low level of its overall spending on research (1.9% of the EU's GDP compared with 2.7% for the USA and 3% for Japan), and the fact that it is less able to exploit the results of scientific work in economic terms, Europe's main weakness in the field of research is the fragmentation and dispersion of its activities.

To overcome this weakness, all the research activities carried out in Europe, some 80% of which are funded and carried out at national level, should be conducted within a common reference framework. And the national and regional research policies should be implemented in a more coherent and coordinated fashion.

Some progress and some success, but within limits

The European Research Area initiative has already resulted in achievements such as the first results of an exercise to benchmark the performance of the national research policies on the basis of twenty indicators, and the development of a European network of researcher mobility and assistance centres which will be launched at the beginning of 2003.

The Sixth European Framework Programme for Research (2003-2006) was specifically designed to help bring about a European Research Area, by means, in particular, of new instruments such as the networks of excellence and integrated projects, stepping up action in the fields of infrastructures and mobility, and a scheme to support initiatives for the networking of national activities.

Structures for contacts between private and public research players have been set up at European level in several areas (ACARE for aeronautical research; ERRAC for railway research), and initiatives to coordinate national research activities have been launched, for example research into TSEs (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies).

However, the European Research Area initiative suffers from the fact that the national research policies are insufficiently coordinated.

New perspectives

To overcome this limitation, the Commission is proposing:

  • To define a formal coordination mechanism which could be based on the system of annual national reports as used in the fields of economic and employment policies;

  • To establish a structure capable of ensuring this coordination, in which the national administrations will be represented at the highest level;

  • To make use of the full open coordination method without cutting out the first two stages: setting common objectives and translating them into specific targets for each country.
In addition, a special effort should be made to help the candidate countries to integrate themselves into the European Research Area. The Commission also proposes to step up ongoing activities, for example by putting forward measures designed to help third country researchers to come to and stay in Europe, and recommendations concerning career development for researchers.

Implementing these new perspectives for the European Research Area would complement the action undertaken to increase overall European spending on research to 3% of GDP by 2010.

Further information is available on the following website:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/era/index_en.html

DN: IP/02/1488 Date: 16/10/2002

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