Brussels, 26 Mar 2004
The UK's Royal Society added its voice to the debate surrounding fundamental research in Europe on 25 March, when it published a report calling for more centres of research excellence to be set up in the EU.
The report represents the society's response to the so-called Mayor report; the final recommendations of the European Research Council Expert Group (ERCEG) published in December 2003. The ERCEG concluded that a European fund for basic research of around two billion euro per year should be established, along with an ERC to administer the fund.
In its report, the Royal Society states: '[...] Europe's aspiration to be the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy requires the development and maintenance of more centres of research excellence within Europe that can compete at a world level, than are currently maintained by national funding bodies.'
'There is thus a potentially legitimate role for central EU funding for this purpose, which is acceptable on the grounds of subsidiarity,' continued the report, in a tacit endorsement of the Mayor report conclusions.
Indeed, the report goes on to describe the ERCEG proposals as 'significantly more focused' than some previous contributions to the debate, and expresses support for many of the group's key recommendations. The Royal Society's vice president, Sir John Enderby, said: 'We are generally supportive of the idea of creating a European Research Council, but in order to have a beneficial impact, it must use excellence as the primary criterion for assessing research proposals.'
The report goes on to endorse the Expert Group's opinion that the distribution of funds by the ERC should be totally independent of the Commission, and that increasing EU support for basic research must not have a negative impact on national budgets for fundamental research.
In fact, one of the sole recommendations put forward by the Royal Society that does not appear in the Mayor report is for the ERC to fund long term fellowships of at least five years for top postdoctoral researchers in Europe. The move would complement the Marie Curie Fellowships currently supported under the Research Framework Programmes, the society believes.
In conclusion, the Royal Society identifies several other issues that it says will need to be addressed in the near future. These include discussions on the basis for funding research expenses, clarifying relationships with national funding bodies and existing pan European research organisations (such as ESA, CERN and EMBO), and deciding how to handle intellectual property rights resulting from ERC funding.
For further information, please consult the following web address: