Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Framework programme


Legislative Reference

COM(2003)226 definitivo of 2000-03-24
The idea of a European Research Area grew out of the realisation that research in Europe suffers from three weaknesses: insufficient funding, lack of an environment to stimulate research and exploit results, and the fragmented nature of activities and the dispersal of resources. The objective of the European Research Area initiative combines three related and complementary concepts:
_ the creation of an "internal market" in research, an area of free movement of knowledge, researchers and technology;
_ a restructuring of the European research fabric;
_ the development of a European research policy taking account of all relevant aspects of other EU and national policies.


In March 2000, the Lisbon European Council set the goal of becoming by 2010 "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion". The project of creating a European Research Area, as proposed by the Commission in its Communication "Towards a European Research Area" was endorsed as a central element of The Lisbon Strategy" to achieve this goal.

Two years later the Barcelona European Council, which reviewed progress towards the Lisbon goal agreed that investment in European research and development (R&D) must be increased with the aim of approaching 3 % of GDP by 2010, it also called for an increase of the level of business funding to two-thirds of total R&D investment. Acknowledging the importance of this goal the 2002 Broad Economic Policy Guidelines of the Member States and the Community recommended to improve incentives for firms to invest in R&D while preserving sound fiscal policies.
The Barcelona objective is essential in realising the Lisbon strategic goal. The European Research Area together with the Sixth EC Framework Programme will contribute to foster better and more investment in R&D. In September 2002, the European Commission adopted a first Communication, "More research for Europe: towards 3 percent GDP", after consulting Member States, industry and other stakeholders on the ways and means to achieve the objective set at the Barcelona European Council. Reactions were very supportive and converging, providing numerous recommendations.

On March 2003, the Brussels European Council invited Member States " to take concrete action, on the basis of the Commission's forthcoming "Investing in research: an action plan for Europe", to promote increased business investment in R&D and innovation, moving towards the Barcelona objective of approaching 3 percent of GDP ". It also called for the European Research and Innovation Area to be strengthened to the benefit of all in the enlarged EU, in particular by " the application of the open method of coordination in support of research and innovation policy in areas such as action pursuing the 3 percent of GDP target for R&D investment or developing human resources in science and technology, and the setting up a mechanism for taking stock of the progress achieved and assessing its efficiency ". This action plan identifies ongoing initiatives relevant to the 3 percent objective, and new actions to be undertaken at national and/or European level.

The role of universities is fundamental to ERA as the knowledge society depends for its growth on the production of new knowledge, its transmission through education and training, its dissemination through information and communication technologies, and on its use through new industrial processes or services. Universities play a key role in all these three fields of research and exploitation of its results. Europe needs a healthy and flourishing university where excellence optimises the processes, which underpin the knowledge society and meet the target set out by the Lisbon European Council, and the need for excellence recognised by the Barcelona European Council in its call for European systems of education to become a "world reference" by 2010.
Two important contributions in achieving the strategic goal set at Lisbon have been the Bologna Declaration, that pledged to reform the structures of higher education systems in a convergent way and launched the process of creating a "European higher education area" by 2010, and, the European Area of Lifelong Learning, representing the response to the mandate from the Feira European Council "to identify coherent strategies and practical measures with a view to fostering lifelong learning for all". European universities must, with the help of the Member States and in a European context face an imperative need to adapt and adjust to profound changes such as:
_ Increased demand for higher education.
_ The internationalisation of education and research.
_ To develop effective and close co-operation between universities and industry.
_ The proliferation of places where knowledge is produced.
_ The reorganisation of knowledge.
_ The emergence of new expectations.

Since the introduction of the ERA concept, the discussions on whether research in Europe would benefit of having a European Research Council, have been intensified. Although no generally accepted definition of such an ERC has come forward yet, the main feature of an ERC would be that it would distribute funds on a very strong European competitive basis, to top class projects in basic/strategic research in all fields of science, including engineering, social sciences and humanities. This competition would then drive up the quality of science over the board in Europe, while at the same time stimulating strategic research co-operation in Europe, resulting in more critical mass, less duplication and better results. If an ERC is to be put into place, other questions to be answered are on which basis should an ERC be developed and what budget should an ERC have?

Significant contributions to this debate have been presented by several stakeholders;
_ The Danish presidency put in place an ERC Expert Group in November 2002.
_ The European Research Advisory Board (EURAB), put into place by and advising the European Commission, published in November 2002 an advice on the subject.
_ The European Science Foundation (ESF) published a report in the spring of 2003, on the modalities of a possible ERC.
_ The European Molecular Biology Organization - EMBO organized a number of conferences on the possible merits of an ERC in the Life Sciences.
_ Other stakeholders such as ALLEA (All European Academies), EUROSCIENCE and EUROHORCs, have also contributed to the debate by issuing written opinions.


The European Research Area initiative has led to a number of different activities and is beginning to be translated into specific action in several ways:

- Activities which build on the conclusions of the Lisbon European Council, most of them based on Commission Communications or staff working papers, are underway in relation to:
- benchmarking of research policies.
- mapping of excellence.
- mobility of researchers.
- research infrastructures.
- networking of national research programmes.
- private investment in research.
- intellectual property.
- electronic networks for research.
- the international dimension of research.
- the regional dimension of research.
- issues relating to science and society.

_ Contact fora and structures covering private and public research players have been or will soon be set up, most often linked to EU activities and programmes, in order to improve the coordination of national activities and policies in several areas:
- transport (ACARE for aeronautical research, ERRAC for railway research)
- environment (European Platform on Biodiversity Research Strategy - EPBRS)
-energy (High-Level Group for Research on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells)
- clean technologies (the global "Civilisation H²").

_ The Sixth Framework Programme for research has been specifically designed and formulated to help achieve the European Research Area and is likely to become an important tool in setting it up. This has been done through new support instruments which will make it possible to built up critical masses of resources (networks of excellence and integrated projects), strengthen action in certain areas such as research infrastructures and the mobility of researchers, provide a scheme for supporting initiatives for the networking of national activities, and implement the provisions of Article 169 of the Treaty authorising the Community to participate in activities undertaken jointly by several Member States.

_ The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has stepped up activities related to the networking of national research capabilities which it carries out to provide the scientific references necessary for EU policies, in particular in the fields of nuclear safeguards and safety, chemical metrology, environmental hazards, and the detection and analysis of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

_Initiatives undertaken independently of EU activities but defined in the spirit of the European Research Area are being launched or studied spontaneously by the scientific community and by industry. Increasingly, reference is made in national research bodies' programmes to the European Research Area (e.g. the CEA (nuclear research) and INSERM (medical research) programmes in France and the programme of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Germany.

_ Bilateral and multilateral links between the main national research organisations (CNRS in France, CSIC in Spain, CNR in Italy, the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Germany, the Research Councils in the UK, TNO in the Netherlands, FNRS in Belgium, TEKES in Finland, etc) are intensifying. These are developing in particular through the creation of "Associated European Laboratories" (laboratories "without walls" combining teams from several different countries).

_ New collaboration schemes are also emerging, such as the exchange programme for researchers between the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Royal Society, and the fellowship scheme for young researchers developed in the framework of the EUROHORCS association.


The Communication from the Commission COM(2003)226 final, Investing in research: an action plan for Europe sets out initiatives required to give Europe a stronger public research base and to make it much more attractive to private investment in research and innovation. Increasing the levels of research investment will contribute to long term innovation, growth and employment potential. The aim is to reach the objective set by the March 2002 Barcelona European Council, to increase the average research investment level from 1.9% of GDP today to 3 percent of GDP by 2010, of which 2/3 should be funded by the private sector. One proposal is to create a number of "European technology platforms", which will bring together the main stakeholders - research organisations, industry, regulators, user groups - around key technologies. Other actions will focus on improving public support to research and technological innovation, increasing the levels of public funding for research, and improving the environment of research and technological innovation in Europe.

The action plan is A CALL FOR ACTION based on a broad and systemic approach to research and innovation. Both the consultation and supporting studies showed that such an approach is the only credible path to deliver the major increases needed in public and private research investment. The action plan comprises four main sets of actions;
_ Progressing jointly.
- Fostering the coherent development of national and European policies.
- Shaping a common vision for the development and deployment of key technologies.
- Enabling all regions to benefit from increased investment in research.
- Designing a coherent mix of policy instruments.

_ Improving public support to research and innovation.
- Human Resources.
- Public research base and its links to industry.
- Improving the mix of public financing instruments and their effectiveness.

_ Redirecting public spending towards research and innovation.
- The stability and growth pact and the broad economic guidelines.
- Balance between national and EU public funding until 2010.
- State aid rules.
- Public procurement.

_ Improving framework conditions for investment in research.
- Intellectual Property (IPR), Regulation of products and standardisation.
- Competition rules.
- Supportive financial markets.
- Fiscal environment.
- Corporate research strategy, management and financial reporting.

The action plan follows an earlier Communication, More research for Europe: towards 3 percent of GDP and it is accompanied by a Commission Staff Working Paper, providing supporting information, and also by the reports of five independent expert groups:
_ Mix of public support mechanisms.
_ Guarantee mechanisms.
_ Risk capital.
_ Direct measures.
_ Fiscal measures.


This information is based on the Communication from the Commission, Investing in research: an action plan for Europe.
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