Brussels, 21st December 2010
European Commission has set up Task Force to help maximise the potential of the European Research Council
The European Commission has set up a Task Force to explore options for the future of the European Research Council (ERC). The Task Force is chaired by the Director General of DG Research, Robert-Jan Smits. This follows nearly four years of successful work by the ERC since it was established by the Commission in 2007.
Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "The ERC has been a great success already and we need to learn from experience and build on the excellent work already done. The Task Force will help us take some final decisions on how best to equip the ERC to play the key role it will have in the Innovation Union and in the Eighth Framework Programme."
The Task Force was set up at the request of the ERC Scientific Council, as announced in its statement in November (see link below), and is the follow-up of last year's thorough Review of the ERC's Structures and Mechanisms, carried out by an expert panel (see link below).
The Task Force includes participants from the relevant Commission departments and representatives from the ERC Scientific Council, including its President Prof. Helga Nowotny. There will also be two external members, Prof. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, former President of the Latvian Republic and former chair of the Review panel of the ERC, and Prof. Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, former ERC Secretary General.
Building on last year's review recommendations, the Task Force will examine the remaining unresolved issues and explore possible governance options to guarantee the long term stability of the ERC structure within the European Research Area and in the context of the new Lisbon Treaty.
Presently, the ERC has a dual structure with a Scientific Council, composed of 22 top scientists, setting the scientific strategy, and an Executive Agency, in charge of implementing the operations. The ERC has a budget of € 7.5 billion from the "IDEAS" programme, part of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research, for the period 2007-2013.
The Task Force has already held an initial meeting and aims to conclude its work within six months, hence well before the decision on the next Framework Programme (FP8) is taken, to allow ample time for the Council and the European Parliament to hold a thorough debate about FP8.
The Commission will in the first quarter of 2011 launch an open consultation on all issues connected to FP8, with a formal proposal to the Council and Parliament to follow towards the end of the year. FP8 will begin in January 2014.
Background information on the ERC
The ERC has to date funded 1729 top researchers (including a 2010 Nobel prize winner, Konstantin Novoselov) from all over the world, to carry out their pioneering projects in Europe,. The grants are worth up to € 3.5 million each.
Some €2.5 billion have been granted to groundbreaking, excellent projects in frontier research in all fields of science and scholarship, with already more than 700 scientific publications related to ERC projects.
The ERC Executive Agency has set up efficient and fast grant management, which compares favourably with the US's National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
A growing and widely recognised scientific reputation has been achieved, due to the high quality of the ERC's evaluation procedures carried out by top-level international peer reviewers. Several European countries have set up ad hoc schemes to reward some of their best non-funded Starting Grant applicants, a trend that also shows the recognition of the ERC's peer review.
The number of applications to the ERC is steadily increasing since 2008, whilst their quality remains very high, and European universities now compete for ERC grantees.
The ERC will play a central role in the new "Innovation Union" initiative of the European Commission (IP/10/1689).
The ERC is the first pan-European funding organisation for basic research at the "frontier" of knowledge. It aims to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by supporting the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and from any scientific discipline, including the social sciences and humanities. The ERC funds both top senior scientists ("ERC Advanced Grants") and younger, early-career researchers ("ERC Starting Grants"). Scientific excellence is the only selection criterion in the ERC's peer reviewed grant competitions. The ERC operates according to an "investigator-driven", or "bottom-up", approach with no thematic priorities or national quotas. The funding of basic research is widely credited with leading to radical innovation and breakthroughs.
ERC website: http://erc.europa.eu
ScC statement, 16 November 2010:
Review and development of ERC:
ERC Striking projects: http://erc.europa.eu/pdf/PROJECTS-EN-LD.pdf