Green Paper on New Perspectives for the European Research Area - a New Attempt to Overcome the Fragmentation of Europe's Research Landscape

bridges vol. 13, April 2007 / Letter from Brussels

by Martin Schmid

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Schmid_Martin_small.jpg A lot of things are going on in Brussels these days in the field of science, research, and innovation. The 7th Research Framework Program (FP7) has just been launched, the first calls are open, and last preparations for the selection procedures are being made. The European Research Council has started its operation, launched the first call, and is still building up its internal structures and developing its procedures. The Commission is in the final phase of its preparations for the proposal of the first Joint Technology Initiatives and initiatives after Article 169 of the EC treaty (joint programs of several Member States with participation of the EC) as foreseen in FP7. The discussions on the creation of the European Institute of Technology are in a crucial phase. Indeed, one can't say that Brussels isn't working hard on its research policy instruments.

At this very moment, the European Commission has again put the focus on another and maybe even more important issue of Europe's research policy: the fragmentation of the European public research base. This fragmentation is still a major problem for Europe's performance in research and innovation, preventing it from using its full potential. Seven years after launching the European Research Area (ERA) at the Lisbon European Council in 2000, many goals have been reached but the overall picture remains the same. There are still obstacles for the mobility of researchers; there is still a lack of coordination between national research policies and programs, leading to duplication of efforts instead of pooling resources; and there is still no well developed and harmonized system for managing and sharing intellectual property, to mention just the most obvious problems.



To tackle these problems the Commission put forward a Green Paper at the beginning of April with the goal of launching a major discussion on the ERA's further development. Debate will take place among the European Institutions, Member States, researchers and research institutions, as well as the general public. In the Green Paper the Commission identifies six dimensions of the ERA for which measures should be considered. The six dimensions are briefly listed here:

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} 1. Realizing a single labor market for researchers - addressing the obstacles to mobility of researchers across borders as well as between academia and industry and the need to make Europe more attractive for researchers in order to reduce the brain drain, especially to the US

2. Developing world class research infrastructures - focusing especially on coordination and pooling of resources among Member States

3. Strengthening research institutions - looking for improvements through modernization, concentration, and specialization

4. Sharing knowledge - addressing one of Europe's main shortcomings: the exploitation of knowledge as well as the improvement of knowledge transfer

5. Optimizing research programs and priorities - improving the coordination and cooperation of research programs on regional, national, and European levels

6. Opening to the world: international cooperation in S&T - aiming at increasing the coordination of international cooperation activities between the EU and Member States.

Since the beginning of the ERA-project in 2000 significant progress has been made in each of these areas by two main approaches. One uses instruments in the Framework Programs specifically designed for coordinating national programs such as the truly successful ERA-Net scheme. The ERA-Net scheme provides support for gradually intensifying cooperation between research programs of several Member States, ideally ending up in joint calls for proposals. Another example is the networks of excellence scheme. The second approach is the so-called Open Method of Coordination which, in the absence of Community competences in most of the relevant regulatory subjects, provides a scheme for mutual learning on a voluntary basis through best practice examples and benchmarks.

The upcoming discussion on the Green Paper will hopefully show not only the way to a more effective use of these instruments, but also bring forward ideas for new approaches and measures, thus helping Europe to better exploit its huge potential in research and innovation. To this end special attention will have to be given to the new Member States which are even further from optimal use of their great human potential. As other Member States may also do, the Austrian Government envisages launching a complementary discussion process at the national level to identify room for improvement at home as well as preparing Austria's contribution to the European debate. I am personally very much looking forward to an interesting discussion process and the proposal of good ideas to move Europe ahead. The Letter from Brussels will return to the ERA debate when concrete results have emerged.



Martin Schmid is a member of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research. Since July 2005 Martin Schmid has been working as attaché for scientific affairs at the Austrian Representation to the EU in Brussels.