European Commission - Press release
Task force makes recommendations to build on the success of the European Research Council
Brussels, 11 July 2011 - The task force set up by the European Commission on the future of the European Research Council (ERC) has recommended from 2014 a quasi-full time role for the President of the ERC, who chairs its Scientific Council, which sets the organisation's scientific and research policy. The President would be based in Brussels. It also recommends an enhanced role for the Director of the ERC's Executive Agency, which administers the ERC's funding for the leading researchers in Europe. In its report issued today, the task force proposes a number of other changes designed to reinforce the ERC's flexibility, efficiency and autonomy - without compromising its accountability - and to make it easier for researchers to apply for and manage ERC grants. The task force concludes that the ERC should remain an executive agency as the best way for it to deliver its expected major contribution to the forthcoming Horizon 2020 programme.
"The task force's report shows consensus on the ERC's success so far, on its strengths and weaknesses and on the need for both broad continuity and for limited but important changes. I have said before that I am the ERC's greatest fan and the report confirms that judgement. I will consider it carefully and the Commission will come forward as soon as possible with measures taking account of the task force's work, so that we can get the ERC on the best possible footing for the future" said Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.
The report concludes that the creation of a quasi-full time Brussels-based President of the ERC and the definition of a stronger executive role for the agency director would dissipate existing uncertainties about roles and responsibilities and be financially more efficient. Simplification and savings would be achieved by abolishing, from 2014, the post of ERC Secretary General – whose current role as the Scientific Council's permanent presence in Brussels would in future largely be part of the role of the President - and by eliminating the extra costs of supporting a President outside Brussels.
More details of the report's recommendations
The recommendations propose a more extensive and explicit delegation of scientific and administrative responsibilities from the Commission to the ERC Scientific Council and ERC Executive Agency respectively.
The report also proposes that the “day to day” supervision of the ERC should be exercised directly via the Steering Committee which formally supervises the ERC Executive Agency on behalf of the European Commission. The Committee would be chaired by the Commission's Research and Innovation Director-general and include two members from the ERC's Scientific Council. The ERC Executive Agency Director would be directly accountable to the Steering Committee.
The task force argues that this would be lighter and less resource consuming than the present arrangement involving a detailed Memorandum of Understanding implemented with the involvement of a significant number of Commission staff, who would now be freed for other duties.
The task force suggests the creation of an independent, private ERC Foundation named “Friends of the ERC” to manage private philanthropic donations to the ERC.
The task force also recommends the formalization of the existing co-ordination group bringing together the Scientific Council leadership with the top management of the Executive Agency, to improve coherence between strategic and operational matters.
Implementing the recommendations in the report could be done partly through autonomous decisions by the European Commission. But some measures would require changes to the wider EU law governing the ERC, which was originally set up under the legislation implementing the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and in line with the 2003 Council Regulation on Executive Agencies. Some changes would therefore require the agreement of the European Parliament and the Council and could, for example, be brought forward as part of the Commission's proposal for the future Horizon 2020 programme.
Set up in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council is the first pan-European funding organisation for frontier research. It aims to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age. The ERC also strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe. The ERC, which is the newest, pioneering component of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme ('Ideas' Specific Programme), has a total budget of €7.5 billion from 2007 to 2013.
The ERC Scientific Council is currently chaired by Prof. Helga Nowotny and is composed of 22 eminent scientists and scholars, including a number of Nobel Prize winners. Based in Brussels and with some 330 staff, the Executive Agency implements the strategy.
- ERC Taskforce Final Report, 12 July 2011
- European Commission press release on the Task Force, 21 December 2010:
- ERC website: http://erc.europa.eu
Annex: Membership of the ERC task force
Robert-Jan Smits, Director General, DG Research and Innovation (Chair)
Wolfgang Burtscher, Deputy Director General, DG Research and Innovation
William Cannell, Adviser, DG Research and Innovation (Rapporteur)
Liliane de Wolf, Head of Legal Unit, DG Research and Innovation
Mathias Dewatripont, member of the ERC Scientific Council and member of the Steering Committee of the ERC Executive Agency
Jürgen Grunwald, Director, Legal Service
Daniel Jacob, Deputy Director General, DG Human Resources and Security
Jack Metthey, Director, DG Research and Innovation and former Director ad interim of the ERC Executive Agency
Helga Nowotny, ERC President
Silvano Presa, Director, DG Budget
Michel Servoz, Deputy Secretary General, General Secretariat
Hubert Szlaszewski, Director, General Secretariat
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former President of Latvia and Chair of the 2009 ERC Review Panel
Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, former President of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and former ERC Secretary General