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FP7

MCEC Report Summary

Project ID: 309434
Funded under: FP7-COH
Country: Denmark

Final Report Summary - MCEC (Ministerial conference and excellence conference)

The European Commission (EC)'s proposal for a framework for European Union (EU) research and innovation funding from 2014 - 2020, Horizon 2020 was launched on 30 November 2011, presented to the Council on 6 December 2011, and is currently being discussed in the European Parliament and the Council research working party. Denmark took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January 2012. One of the main objectives for the Danish Presidency was to reach a partial general approach on the framework programme on Horizon 2020. In order to facilitate discussions among the Member States, the Presidency organised several conferences which focused on key areas related to Horizon 2020, among these, a ministerial conference on Horizon 2020, and a conference on excellence.

The ministerial conference took place in Copenhagen on 1 February. A range of key European and global stakeholders were invited to discuss issues related to the EC's proposal on Horizon 2020 with European ministers. The conference was structured according to the proposed three pillars of Horizon 2020: excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. In general, stakeholders and ministers agreed with some of the main features of the EC's proposal such as the need for simplification, a challenge-based approach, increased focus on innovation and growth and a simplified structure.

Regarding the first pillar on excellent science discussions centred on the importance of a strong European Research Center (ERC), the importance of supporting young promising researchers and that regional funds could be invested in research infrastructures. The importance of ensuring complementarities between the four programmes was also stressed.

Regarding the second pillar on industrial leadership discussions centred on the need to reverse the trend of a decreasing participation from the industry. Only if the industry is an intrinsic part of Horizon 2020 will it contribute to job creation and growth. In the same vain, it was stressed that Europe needs to change the situation that on a global scale of excellent research, Europe performs well, but fails to turn this position into products and market shares on the global market. The importance of making Horizon 2020 more attractive to small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)'s through simplification and more targeted programmes was also underlined.

The general impression regarding the third pillar on societal challenges was that the identified challenges are the right ones. Though issues such as the financial crisis and migration could be added and some parts could be moved. The importance of an inter-disciplinary approach was highlighted in order to truly address the societal challenges and to find new innovative and creative solutions.

The ministerial conference was followed by the Informal Competitiveness Council from 2 - 3 February where Horizon 2020 was also on the agenda for the research and innovation part.

In order to promote a common understanding of the concept of excellence and how to support and nurture it, the Danish Presidency also organised a conference called 'Excellence revisited - The value of excellence'. The conference attracted almost 350 participants, representing stakeholders, policy makers, researchers and innovators from over 20 countries from Europe, America and Asia. The objective was to set a renewed focus on excellence in order to make the European research base better prepared to respond to the societal challenges facing Europe, and to contribute to consolidating Europe as a competitive knowledge-based economy. This renewed focus was also intended as input to the further work with Horizon 2020.

The main output from the conference was a declaration on excellence which can serve as a point of reference for policy makers, leaders of research institutions and organisations and researchers and innovators, both at national and at European level.

The main messages of the Aarhus Declaration were that Europe is to sustain and nurture excellence in research:

- Europe must provide steady - private and public - financial support for research using a small set of simple, broad and unbureaucratic, non-thematic instruments with fair and transparent assessment and selection procedures, in order to let the very best researchers evolve and pursue the research ideas they are most intrigued by.
- Europe must build on and support national excellence initiatives to educate and nurture talent in order to produce and attract top researchers.
- Europe must ensure open access to research results and access to infrastructures and funding, enabling researchers across fields and disciplines, students and society to share and learn.

Furthermore, the Aarhus Declaration states that Europe should move towards a European Research Area (ERA) of excellence by following a set of underlying principles and focus areas, namely trust and freedom, a long-term perspective, creative and dynamic research environments, cross-disciplinarity, recognising and nurturing talents, and state-of-the-art infrastructures.

The Aarhus Declaration on Excellence was handed to the Danish Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education on the last day of the conference, and was presented at the Competitiveness Council on 31 May 2012.

Project context and objectives:

In November 2011, the EC presented its proposal for the next Framework Programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020. It is currently being discussed in the European Parliament as well as the Council. The EC's proposal on Horizon 2020 entails a new approach to research and innovation cooperation in Europe. A strategic framework for a comprehensive programme for research and innovation has been launched, in which elements from current separate programmes on research, innovation and training have been included in three overarching priorities: excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. The programme will last for seven years, with a foreseen start date on 1 January 2014.

The Danish Presidency set forth an ambition to reach a partial general approach on Horizon 2020 in the Council during its presidency period.

In this context, the Presidency wished to host a range of conferences on topics particularly pertinent to European research and innovation in order to gather stakeholders, researchers, innovators and policy makers for deliberation on important themes. The importance of stakeholder involvement in developing future research and innovation agendas in the EU is also emphasised in the Europe 2020-strategy.

In order to facilitate the further discussions, the Danish Presidency, represented by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (DASTI) - a part of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education - organised a ministerial conference which took place the day before the informal Competitiveness Council meeting. Participants in the ministerial conference were the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, ministers and heads of delegations from EU Member States, associated countries and candidate countries and the rapporteur on simplification in the European Parliament, Maria Carvalho. Furthermore, key European and global stakeholders were invited.

The ministerial conference provided a platform for key European and global stakeholders to discuss the EC's proposal with European ministers and thereby feed their ideas and thoughts into the political process.

The conference was structured along the three main pillars of the EC's proposal for Horizon 2020, namely:
1) excellent science;
2) industrial leadership; and
3) societal challenges.
The discussions were focused around key areas related to Horizon 2020 which had been identified as particularly pertinent, and the presidency, in close cooperation with the EC, had developed a pre-conference presidency paper which presented a background for the discussions.

Another conference which was organised under the Danish Presidency was 'Excellence revisited - the value of excellence'. The aim of the conference was to promote the value of excellence in all aspects of European research and innovation policy, both at national and European level.

Europe has reached a new level of research cooperation with the construction of the European Research Council (ERC), which funds excellent research based on a competitive process and peer reviewed proposals. The right to act on this at European level relates to the importance of strengthening competitiveness and attractiveness of Europe as a research area in order to contribute to one of the three overall objectives of the Innovation Union, making Europe a world-class science performer. The need to provide long term funding for excellent researchers with excellent ideas may lead to major breakthroughs and contribute to solving societal challenges. Both the challenges identified on the basis of widespread agreement across Europe and globally today, and challenges not yet foreseen.

The pattern of global knowledge production is changing. If Europe is to maintain a competitive position in terms of attractiveness, bringing research results to market and boosting growth, it is of utmost importance that the resources spent on research and innovation are spent with excellence as the key principle.

There is widespread agreement on the importance of excellence as a key principle in European cooperation on research and innovation. However, there has up to now not been a fully common understanding of what excellence is, why it is important, and how it is built, supported and nurtured. Excellence has had different meanings across different fields. The conference on excellence therefore made an effort to promote a common understanding of what excellence is, why we should strive for it and how it is built throughout the research and innovation chain across Europe.

Also, the conference aimed at providing input to further policy development at national and European level, including Horizon 2020, mainly through a declaration on excellence, both based on the discussions in the international advisory board prior to the conference as well as discussions during the conference. The objective was to set a renewed focus on excellence in order to make the European research base better prepared to respond to the societal challenges facing Europe, and to contribute to consolidating Europe as a competitive knowledge-based economy.

This renewed focus also serves as a clear input to the further work with Horizon 2020 and the results of the conference were presented at the Competitiveness Council on 31 May 2012.

Project results:

The ministerial conference - a platform for discussions on Horizon 2020

One of the objectives of the Danish Presidency was to reach a partial general approach on the EC's proposal on Horizon 2020. This could contribute to promote timely agreement on the proposal and thereby assist in ensuring enough time for preparing a successful implementation of the programme for EU research and innovation, which in turn is seen as an important element for growth in Europe. The proposal was on the agenda in the research and innovation part of the informal Competitiveness Council 2 February 2012. The ministerial conference thus provided a timely platform for ministers and policy makers to discuss relevant issues with key stakeholders from across Europe and outside.

The conference was structured according to the proposed three pillars of Horizon 2020: excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. The presidency, in close collaboration with the EC, developed a pre-conference paper on issues chosen according to their particularly strong relevance for the discussions within each of the three pillars at that stage. The paper set forth questions for discussion and was conveyed to the participants well in advance of the conference in order to facilitate the preparation of the respective delegations and other participants.

The paper was distributed to the participants before the conference and focused on questions such as:
- The ERC has proven to be a success. How can it strike the right balance between developing the excellence of young researchers and consolidating the excellence of more experienced ones?
- Horizon 2020 introduces a closer connection between research and innovation. Will the proposed new measures strengthen the capability in Europe to turn excellent research into services, products and market shares?
- Break-through solutions often come from interdisciplinary approaches. Is such an approach sufficiently inherent in the description provided for the societal challenges? How could such an approach best be implemented?

The feedback from the participants indicated that both ministers and stakeholders found it useful to have such a platform for deliberation, and that it contributed to finding common grounds of understanding on key issues related to the coming framework for EU research and innovation cooperation. In general stakeholders and ministers agreed with some of the main features of the EC's proposal such as the need for simplification, a challenge-based approach, increased focus on innovation and growth and a simplified structure.

Regarding the first pillar on excellent science discussions centred on the importance of a strong ERC, the importance of supporting young promising researchers and that regional funds could be invested in research infrastructures. The importance of ensuring complementarities between the four programmes was also stressed.

Regarding the second pillar on industrial leadership discussions centred on the need to reverse the trend of a decreasing participation from the industry. Only if the industry is an intrinsic part of Horizon 2020 will it contribute to job creation and growth. In the same vain the it was stressed that Europe needs to change the situation that on a global scale of excellent research, Europe performs well, but fails to turn this position into products and market shares on the global market The importance of making Horizon 2020 more attractive to SME's through simplification and more targeted programmes was also underlined.

The general impression regarding the third pillar on societal challenges was that the identified challenges are the right ones. Though issues such as the financial crisis and migration could be added and some parts could be moved. The importance of an inter-disciplinary approach was highlighted in order to truly address the societal challenges and to find new innovative and creative solutions.

A common understanding of excellence - What, why, how?

The main result of the conference is the Aarhus Declaration on Excellence which is presented at the end of this section. In addition, this conference report is public, and presents some of the main discussions from the conference. The conference also engaged a cartoonist, Mr Jens Hage, who was present on stage in almost all plenary sessions, and visualised the discussions through a high production of illustrative drawings. Jens Hage is an experienced cartoonist with a long career as a newspaper cartoonist in one of Denmark's largest daily newspapers (Berlingske Tidende). He has also experience with conference and meeting facilitation. The audience expressed appreciation for the visualisation, and the illustrations were exhibited during breaks. Examples from Hage's visualisation of the conference discussions are included in the following.

Conference discussions

What is excellence? Why strive for excellence? How can we build, stimulate and utilise excellence in research and innovation in Europe both at national and European level?

These are the questions that around 350 participants representing stakeholders, policy makers and researchers as well as some 25 speakers spent two and a half days discussing in a town in the north of Denmark. The context is a gloomy one. Europe is facing perhaps one of its largest economic crises in the time of the EU. We are falling behind other regions concerning research funding and economic output of research and innovation. Citizens of Europe expect policy makers to commit to solving the grand societal challenges of our time, and in a time with high unemployment, financial despair and stagnating growth across Europe, the right to act on behalf of Europe, spending tax payers money is increasingly tied to expectations of hasty results and quick fixes. As one speaker expressed: 'My friends, we are in trouble.'

So what is excellence? Excellence means different things to different people. Therefore, the idea of funding excellence is also understood differently according to whom one asks. Some people argue that excellence is recognizable in a way that you know it when you see it. However, there are procedures and systems for recognizing excellence related to competitive calls in both private and public funding mechanisms. Free and open calls with peer reviews and/or interviews have been developed in order to select the very best projects in research and innovation both at national and international level. In addition, there are ranking systems and indicator reports which may also contribute to measuring performance of institutions and organisations. Rankings are often based on indicators, and many argue that they do not give a complete picture, at least not with regards to pockets of excellence within larger institutions.

For example, a university might be ranked high in general, but might not be excellent in certain fields. A combination of indicators and peer review systems may therefore be the best way to objectively decide on which projects and which researchers who stand out.

Another aspect is that there is no limit to where excellence may flourish. It can appear anywhere. But excellence in one field should not be aggregated so that the creation and consolidation of an elite based on reputation tied to single institutions or organisations leads to non-competitive funding.

Excellence is also curious, insatiable, and imaginative. A lot of research of high quality can be said to be excellent. However, there are some levels of scientific excellence that go beyond the paradigms of their own fields, challenge whole schools of thought and lead to groundbreaking results. Excellence is not a zero sum game. It is a moving target. Nevertheless, we should strive for excellence as a fundamental pillar in our research policies across Europe with the right instruments in place to do so.

Why should we strive for excellence? Could it be argued that the resources for research funding should be spread out in order to include as many as possible? Or that private and public funding of research and innovation should concentrate on strategic and predefined projects? Should we not demand to see rapid results of research and innovation projects that can contribute to society and general wellbeing here and now?

Excellent research environments generate scientific breakthroughs. And it is these scientific breakthroughs that are the baseline for future wellbeing.

The examples of unexpected findings in research and innovation that have impacts on their fields for decades and centuries to come are manifold. Thus, there is no immediate guarantee that predefined calls for proposals lead to the expected solutions. However, it is also important to underscore that scientists operate within societal and cultural patterns that inspire them to contribute to solving societal challenges and generate industrial and technological development. Striving for excellent research environments therefore creates a strong foundation for ensuring that the best capacities are involved with developing sustainable solutions to the challenges we face in Europe.

Excellent research and innovation is also a precondition for Europe to maintain competitive, both as a knowledge-based economy and as an attractive place to work for excellent international researchers from all over the world.

How is excellence built, sustained, and nurtured? The discussions on what excellence is and why it is important create some basis premises for the discussion on how to build excellence. The conference discussions focused on three sets of structural factors in this concern:
1. funding mechanisms
2. drivers for excellence
3. cultures for creativity.

1. Funding mechanisms

Both public and private funding bodies are concerned with seeing fruitful results of their funding. By funding excellent research and innovation, there is a greater chance that the results will have visible impacts on society, industry and on the scientific and technological disciplines within which the projects are conducted. As mentioned above, open and competitive calls with project evaluations through peer reviews by national and international experts provide a good procedure of selecting the best. These procedures for research funding must nevertheless be transparent and un-biased in order to maintain high quality and credibility.

A good balance between open and pre-defined, strategic calls should be maintained in order to focus on societal challenges and technological solutions and also leave room for researchers to come up with problem definitions and projects.

Another point that is repeatedly underscored is the importance of long term funding and trust. Scientific breakthroughs and innovations are developed over long periods of time, and results may not be translated into concrete outputs to be used in society and by industry before decades of development. Therefore, funding mechanisms should be reliable and continuous to ensure sustainable research and innovation environment. Once excellent projects have been selected, they should receive sufficient long term funding.

It is also important that funding mechanisms are not managed in such a way that they create overly bureaucratic procedures, and as such serve as an impediment for attracting the best researchers. It is well known that researchers across Europe plea for simplified funding mechanisms, both at national and European level.

In addition, Europe should monitor and ensure a better regulatory environment to allow research to flourish.

2. Drivers for excellence

Important drivers for excellence include factors at policy level and institutional level, both nationally and internationally. Institutional leaders have a responsibility to provide the best training for young scientists, to establish trust among their staff, attractive work environments and access to research infrastructures.

Policy makers have a responsibility in making regulatory frameworks that to not serve as impediments for institutions to develop into excellent units, to pursue competitive policies and reliable funding for research and innovation, and to pursue national and international cooperation that avoids duplication of efforts and attracts the best minds.

3. Cultures for excellence

Many pointed out that excellence has a conservative element to it. Peer reviews, rankings and reputations tend to be consolidated and need to be challenged and tested in order to maintain excellence.

Europe needs to take advantage of its vast pool of human capital which is diverse, both in terms of gender, geography and cross-disciplinarity. Research and innovation should take this diversity into account in order to be truly competitive. Diversity and interdisciplinarity are crucial aspects in the creation of institutional cultures of excellence.

The Aarhus Declaration on excellence

The Aarhus Declaration on excellence was drafted by the conference working group in close collaboration with the steering group and the international advisory board. The drafting process was also a good indication on which issues that would be touched upon during the conference discussions, and as such provided useful inputs to the process of developing the contents of the various sessions of the conference. Both the working group and the steering group represented a broad set of actors in the Danish research policy system. The Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, the universities and the main public and private funders were involved. The involved organisations and institutions were:
1. Aarhus University (who also hosted the event)
2. the Danish National Research Foundation
3. the Lundbeck Foundation
4. the Danish Council for Independent Research.

The international advisory board consisted of representatives from some of the most central actors in the development of research and innovation policy at European level:
1. Professor Helga Nowotny, President of the European Research Council
2. Professor Gunnar Öquist, former Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
3. Professor Dieter Imboden, President of the European Heads of Research Councils (Europhorcs)[er han former president?]
4. Professor Enric Banda, Director of Science, Research and Environment at 'La Caixa' Foundation and President of Euroscience
5. Professor Jerzy M. Langer, Foreign Secretary of Academia Europaea.

Thus, the discussions in these forums represented different perspectives in research cooperation in Europe. The fact that they were all closely involved with the drafting of the declaration, could also be a reason for the high support and credibility that the declaration gained.

The declaration was sent to a broad set of European research and innovation organisations in an open consultation in order to open for comments and suggestions to the document before the conference. The few written reactions to the consultation did support the general content and priorities in the declaration, but did also raise some pertinent questions regarding the discussions which were taken into consideration both in the conference discussions and with regards to possible amendments to the declaration. The few written reactions was taken as a sign of support for the draft declaration.

The Aarhus Declaration states that Europe should move towards an ERA of excellence by following a set of underlying principles and focus areas, namely trust and freedom, a long-term perspective, creative and dynamic research environments, cross-disciplinarity, recognising and nurturing talents, and state-of-the-art infrastructures.

The declaration was printed and handed out at the conference, and was used actively as a reference point both by speakers and the audience. The moderator, Richard Hudson, CEO Business Europe, also reminded participants on the opportunity to comment on the declaration throughout the conference. There were rapporteurs in all sessions on the first two days specifically dedicated to taking comments on the declaration.

On the afternoon of 19 April, the international advisory board had a meeting with the rapporteurs and the moderator in order to finalize the declaration and discuss potential amendments according to comments submitted during the sessions. As a result, the Aarhus Declaration was gender mainstreamed, and a point on regulatory frameworks was added.

The declaration was then handed to the Danish Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, Mr Morten Østergaard at the end of the conference. He committed to presenting it at the competitiveness Council at 31 May.

The Aarhus Declaration was initially intended to be a political statement from the Danish Presidency. However, due to the circumstances relating to the ongoing negotiations of the EC's proposal on Horizon 2020, and the complex issues regarding the lack of a common understanding of excellence, it was important to embed the Aarhus Declaration in a much wider context. The declaration was therefore drafted by the representatives in the working group, steering committee and the international advisory board, and open for discussion among significant actors in European research cooperation. This bottom up process added an important contribution to reaching a common ground on the principles expressed in the declaration.

Potential impact:

Impact from the ministerial conference - Input to discussions on Horizon 2020

The ministerial conference was intended to provide inputs to the discussions on Horizon 2020. This was also closely connected with the Presidency ambition to reach a partial general approach on the EC's proposal. Originally, the intention was also to develop a conference report to be distributed to the participants. However, the latter was found to seem to draw up some premature conclusive remarks on issues that were still to be discussed in detail among the member states. Instead, a short confidential report was developed (deliverable D6.5). It was used to provide input to the Danish Minister's opening speech at the informal Council meeting on 2 February 2012.

Nevertheless, the discussions between policy makers and stakeholders at that stages is believed to have been highly fruitful for the further discussions, and to have contributed to a productive deliberative relationship between the relevant parties that took part in the discussions during the Danish Presidency. The ministerial conference was instrumental in establishing the impression among all participants that there is widespread content with the EC's proposal for Horizon 2020. In particular stakeholders and ministers agreed with some of the main features of the EC's proposal such as the need for simplification, a challenge-based approach, increased focus on innovation and growth and a simplified structure. This common ground was instrumental in furthering the discussions and negotiations on Horizon 2020 and thereby in laying the ground for reaching a partial general approach at the Competitiveness Council meeting 31 May 2012.

Impact from the excellence conference – How will the Aarhus Declaration live on?

The potential impact of reaching a common understanding on what excellence is, why it is important, and how it is recognised and nurtured is first and foremost a better basis for developing high-quality research environments in Europe, both at national and European level. The Aarhus Declaration emphasises some general principles and can be used as a point of reference for actors within European research and innovation. These are academic and administrative leaders of universities and research organisations, funders, both public and private, national and European policy makers and industry.

Discussions from the conference on how to recognise excellence, how to measure it, the role of funders, and the importance of diversity have demonstrated the complexity of the issue, and as such, why it is important and pertinent to have a reference point such as the Aarhus Declaration.

There are great socio-economic gains in spending public funding on high-quality research with potentially significant societal impact. Research and innovation are highlighted in the Europe 2020 strategy as they are seen as important contributors to increased employment, enhancing competitiveness and generating growth. Funding for research and innovation should however be focussed at areas where the added value for Europe is greatest. An excellent science base is seen as one of the three bearing pillars of the EC's proposal on Horizon 2020. However, there should be a common understanding of what excellent science is and what should be funded within this concept in order to achieve greater results.

The principles formulated in the Aarhus Declaration points to the right direction in terms of nurturing excellence throughout the whole research and innovation chain. An excellent science base is a prerequisite for the development of industrial leadership and societal challenges, and will lift the quality, attractiveness and output of European research and innovation.

List of websites:

The ministerial conference did not have its own separate web site but instead used the government's EU Presidency website, which is http://eu2012.dk/en

More information can be found at the following url: http://eu2012.dk/en/NewsList/Februar/Week-5/Compet-research

More information on the Aarhus Declaration, as well as conference presentations, illustrations and information about the contributors can be found at the following url: http://www.excellence2012.dk/

The relevant links are the following:

Videos: http://www.excellence2012.dk/videos/
The Aarhus Declaration: http://www.excellence2012.dk/fileadmin/www.excellence2012.dk/pdf/exc_declaration_FINAL_screen.pdf
Presentations: http://www.excellence2012.dk/presentationspapers/
Drawings by the conference cartoonist: http://www.excellence2012.dk/drawings/

Related information

Contact

Are STRAUME, (Head of Section)
Tel.: +45-723-18243
E-mail
Record Number: 54699 / Last updated on: 2013-04-05
Information source: SESAM
Collaboration sought: N/A