The European Research Council Expert Group (ERCEG), set up under the Danish Presidency to investigate the creation of a new European body for the support of basic research, has delivered a provisional verdict in favour of the idea. Speaking at a conference on research infrastructures in Trieste, Italy, on 21 November, vice chair of the ERCEG, Mogens Flensted-Jensen, announced that: 'The expert group recommends that the European Union sets up a European fund for basic research to be guided and managed by a European Research Council [ERC].' The fund for basic research envisaged by the expert group should come from a specific line in the EU Framework Programme budget approved by the European Parliament. Such a fund 'should not be created at the expense of existing and well functioning European [research and development] activities.' In terms of the precise level of funding, the group argues that with an annual total of around 40 billion euro spent on funding fundamental science in universities and national research agencies, in order to have any impact, an ERC would need to have at least five per cent, around two billion euro, at its disposal. The ERC's mandate would be to fund projects on the basis of scientific excellence, and following a process of open competition. In terms of its funding, the body should be 'politically accountable to the EU and the wider European society', but must operate as a scientifically autonomous body, based on the guidance of the European research community. The ERC should foster collaboration among national research councils, according to the preliminary report, as well as encourage researcher training and mobility, and provide access to major European infrastructures. The timeframe identified by the ERCEG foresees a political commitment on the issue by 2004, with the ERC beginning its work in 2007 to coincide with the launch of the Seventh Framework Programme. The interim findings of the group's work will be widely distributed, and feedback will be taken into account before publication of the final report, which will be delivered to European research ministers in December.