The successful demonstration of single-pass free electron lasers (FEL) around the year 2000 triggered a number of research centres in Europe, the United States and Asia to initiate the construction of new research infrastructures. These projects are based on strong science cases put forward by interested research communities. The new FEL sources combine the wide and continuously tunable wavelength range of synchrotron radiation with ultra-short pulses and coherence of lasers, but at much higher peak and average power, offering completely new research opportunities in different areas of science for a large research community. Several European countries are supporting the construction of national FEL facilities which are now combining their forces and coordinating their activities to build and operate a distributed European facility, the IRUVX-FEL. This facility will be able to offer a suite of complementary sources and instrumentation that is unsurpassed in the world. The main objective of the IRUVX-FEL Preparatory Phase is the integration of the national FEL facilities into a distributed European FEL facility in order to fully exploit the complementary features and expertise of the individual member facilities and to maximise the benefits for both the member facilities and the users. This includes the agreement and implementation of structures and methods that allow efficient construction and operation of the IRUVX-FEL facility, and the preparation of critical technology ensuring that all member facilities will be exploited with highest efficiency. The access to this world-class facility will be facilitated by transparent and coordinated access policies and procedures agreed by the IRUVX-FEL consortium. The present proposal includes all the necessary preparatory work to build this consortium with the goal to offer world-class service in response to the needs formulated by the research community.
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