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The newsletter of the Innovation and SMEs Programme





November 2001

Policy News



What moves a scientist?

    Obstacles to the mobility of research workers - between Member States, between industry and academia, and between the public and private sectors - restrict the European Research Area. New European Commission initiatives address the problem, on the advice of a high-level expert group.

F reedom of research workers to move between institutions in the EU, to exchange expertise and develop a European dimension for both collaborations and individual careers, is key to the concept of a European Research Area (ERA). Europe needs to attract researchers from the rest of the world, to encourage the return of brain-drain academics, and to link scientific workers in the public and private sectors.

A high-level expert group (HLG) was convened by the Commission to analyse obstacles to the mobility of research workers. Reporting in April 2001, the HLG findings( 1 ) form the basis of a Commission proposal( 2 ) for a specific strategy for mobility within the ERA.

Experience working in another country is valuable. But will his wife receive residence and work permits?

Experience working in another country is valuable. But will his wife receive residence and work permits?

Remaining obstacles

The HLG identified a range of persistent obstacles to movement to another European country, of which the most serious are legal, administrative, social and cultural. Problems with visas, residence and work permits for the family members of research workers are very common, particularly for workers from third countries. Differences between social security and taxation systems also cause difficulties - mobile workers often have to pay for social security benefits they cannot receive. Good practice is now found in some Member States, however. In France, research workers with scientific visas need not hold work permits, for example. Another major problem identified by the HLG was the lack of co-ordinated information.

Research workers may also encounter difficulties in re-entering their home scientific community after an absence abroad, and in establishing the value of their foreign experiences. Finally, funding is a major problem, especially for promoting mobility in mid-career or at more senior levels, and for funding start-up companies.

Finding answers

Jocelyne Gaudin of the Directorate-General for Research says that the Commission's strategy is twofold - to enhance the environment for researcher mobility, and to increase the financial support available. Plans to improve the general climate include an internet portal to link national and Commission information sites on regulations, procedures and work opportunities. Mobility centres will give advice and training. Statistics-gathering and co-operation between national agencies will be improved, leading later to benchmarking exercises and exchange of best practices. National ombudsmen will be appointed to handle complaints. Employers will be encouraged to improve the advertising for research posts. New EU legislative proposals should reduce the problems of access to employment, social security and taxation.

This improved environment must be complemented by better financing. The new Research Framework Programme (2002-2006) includes a significant increase and more diversification in funding to facilitate researcher mobility, including specific measures to help reintegration of workers returning from other countries. Other new financial incentives will promote European research teams, especially in emerging technologies, and also offer funding for researchers from third countries. (1) High-Level Expert Group on Improving Mobility of Researchers: Final Report.
(2) Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament:
A mobility strategy for the European Research Area.


  • J. Gaudin, European Commission
    DG Research
    ERA: the human factor
    Mobility policies
    Tl. +32 2 295 0976
    Fx. +32 2 296 3270
    (email removed)