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ERA firmly on Council agenda

The importance of the political commitment made by EU leaders at the Feira summit to establishing a European research area was underlined by Mariano Gago, President of the Research Council following a meeting with MEPs on 22 June in Brussels. Speaking at a press conference, M...

The importance of the political commitment made by EU leaders at the Feira summit to establishing a European research area was underlined by Mariano Gago, President of the Research Council following a meeting with MEPs on 22 June in Brussels. Speaking at a press conference, Mr Gago said progress towards the ERA will be closely monitored by the Council, inviting MEPs to ensure that action plans are implemented. 'The fact that the ERA was supported at Feira has strong political consequences because it means that at the next Council it will be on the agenda and the Council will look at the progress that has been made,' said Mr Gago. However, he did not accept the target proposed by Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin of opening up at least 30 per cent of national research programmes to researchers from other countries, saying this would give rise to difficulties in the short term. 'I am very convinced that putting national programmes together is very complex. It leads to problems of equilibrium and of funding, so we need to devise ways of creating confidence in national governments so they know they won't be disadvantaged. 'We have to look at what is achievable. Opening up national programmes is only one part of the deal. What we need to do is not just to open up plans, but also to devise common programmes.' Philippe Busquin is committed to the 30 per cent target as a long term, said the Commissioner's aides, saying it could be achieved through benchmarking. 'Benchmarking has been proved to be successful by naming and shaming those who are not complying. It worked for the single currency, so why not for the ERA?' Benchmarking is an important tool, agreed Mr Gago, saying: 'We can use benchmarking to build up scientific policy together using our combined scientific knowledge of what people are doing and what needs to be done. National policies are too divided, and reviewing the results of benchmarking each spring will be effective.' The number of researchers working in a different member State to their own needs to be increased if the ERA is to become a reality, said Mr Gago, proposing a policy of investing in human resources. 'A few years ago the average of European nationals working in science outside their country of origin was not even five per cent. We cannot have an ERA with this low level of researchers working outside their country of origin. Perhaps the best way of achieving an ERA is to see this number in 20 years go from five per cent to 20 per cent.' Member States could be persuaded to make a commitment to this, said Mr Gago, by setting a standard for researchers in the public sector that they cannot progress above a certain level unless they have spent a number of years working outside their country of origin. 'If we want to do this we have to invest heavily in researchers at the age of mobility and invest heavily in post doctoral programmes abroad,' he said.