Brussels, 25 March 2009
Research Infrastructures and the Regional
Dimension of the ERA
Importance of Research Infrastructures for Europe
- “Research Infrastructure” are facilities, resources and related
services that are used by the scientific community to conduct top-level research
in their respective fields. This definition covers: major scientific equipment
or sets of instruments; knowledge based-resources such as collections, archives
or structured scientific information; enabling ICT-based infrastructures such as
Grid, computing, software and communications. Such Research Infrastructures may
be “single-sited” or “distributed” (a network of
- Examples of Research Infrastructures range from synchrotrons, telescopes,
high power lasers, or high performance computers, to research vessels,
bio-banks, brain imaging facilities, clean rooms, data archives, etc.
- High quality, internationally open Research Infrastructures are necessary
tools to carry out top quality research. They contribute to extending the
frontiers of knowledge, supporting industrial innovation, exchanging and
transmitting knowledge, and training the next generation of top researchers.
Therefore, Research Infrastructures are at the core of the “knowledge
triangle”, combining Research, Education and Innovation.
- The European Research Area is creating a genuine "internal market" for
research and a single labour market for researchers. The European Commission
launched a broad debate on the future of the European Research Area and its
contribution to the renewed Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs with the
publication of its Green Paper of April 2007 (COM(2007)161),.
- The high tech market generated each year by the construction and operation
of Research Infrastructures in Europe about 9 B€, according to a recent
impact study funded by the European Commission. Supporting the use, the
construction and the upgrade of Research Infrastructures in the frame of the
current socio-economic situation, can thus be an important factor for economic
recovery and development of the knowledge economy.
Research Infrastructures for regional development
- For historical reasons and because of their high cost, existing Research
Infrastructures are disproportionately located in regions of the largest EU
- New facilities need to be distributed throughout the EU so that the European
Research Area can reach its full potential. A Working Group for "Regional
Issues" set by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) in
2007, noted the following regional benefits from Research Infrastructures:
- Returns to the contributing Regions and Institutions during construction and
operation, through the involvement of their industries/providers.
- Returns to the surrounding territory, in terms both of direct expenditure
for operation (personnel, provisions, utilities, etc), and of attraction of
other activities (shops, restaurants, hotels, etc).
- Direct financial returns, due to the industrial or commercial exploitation
of research and technological developments.
- Educational returns, in terms of training of researchers and
technical/managerial people, which may move to the local environment and to
- Returns from knowledge production and from being part of international
- The Working Group also stated that every large Research Infrastructure
should interact with regional Research Infrastructure centres. In particular,
“regional partner facilities" acting as both pre- and post-processing
centres for the large Research Infrastructures could be beneficial for a more
Coordination of national policies
- The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure (ESFRI was mandated
in 2004 by the Competitiveness Council to produce a Roadmap for new Research
Infrastructures of pan-European relevance. This Roadmap, updated in December
2008, is a fundamental effort to answer the needs of the research community for
the next 10-20 years and to catalyse a joint vision for new or upgraded Research
- The ESFRI Roadmap identifies 44 such projects worth a total of close to 18
B€. across many fields of science and technology. The publication of this
Roadmap triggered the creation of parallel national roadmaps, crucial for
deciding on domestic priorities and thus the planning of joint efforts and
- The challenge today is to implement all these projects and Member States
must be the key actors for the emergence of these new Research Infrastructures.
Long term commitments of Member States, sound management, as well as favourable
fiscal and legal conditions are key factors for the sustainability of Research
- The Commission already financially supports 34 projects from the ESFRI
roadmap in their preparatory phase through the 7th Research Framework Programme
(FP7) with between 1 and 10 M€ each. The preparatory phase aims at
involving all the stakeholders necessary to make the project move forward, to
take decisions and to make financial commitments before construction can start.
- Direct support from FP7 to the construction itself can only be very limited.
Indirect participation in the construction costs will be possible by
facilitating loans through the new Risk Sharing Finance Facility, an innovative
idea of leveraging Community Budget funds available under FP7 through the
European Investment Bank (EIB).
- The Commission can also help developing a favourable legal environment. To
this end, the European Commission presented in July 2008 a proposal for a
Council Regulation on a Community legal framework for European Research
Infrastructures (COM(2008)467). The proposed legal framework would provide a
common legal personality recognised in all Member States and could provide some
of the advantages of international organisations. It is designed to facilitate
the joint establishment and operation of Research Infrastructures of European
interest by a Consortium led by several Member States and to cut down
significantly the time necessary for setting up such European Infrastructures,
allowing them to become operational as soon as possible. Purely national legal
bases as well as international agreements have proven either inadequate or too
Role of Structural Funds
- It is not widely known that Structural and Cohesion Funds have just as much
funding available for research, technological development and innovation (RTDI)
actions: about € 50 billion. Nearly € 10 billion of this
is allocated to "R&D infrastructure and centres of competence in a specific
technology", and of this € 7.5 billion will be spent in the
- Even if much of this will be spent on small-scale, general research
infrastructures, significant funding is still available to support large-scale,
pan-European Research Infrastructures in the Convergence Regions,
- When the Lisbon process was relaunched in 2005, the Council underlined that
“the Union must mobilise all appropriate national and Community resources
including Cohesion policy” in pursuit of the Lisbon objectives. That is
why the current Community Strategic Guidelines for the implementation of the
Structural and Cohesion Funds were accordingly modified.
- The Lisbon strategy explicitly sets out to increase the EU's capacity for
research and innovation. This is reflected in the detailed operational
programmes implementing cohesion policy. For the period 2007-2013, EU cohesion
policy has been allocated a total budget of € 347 billion. Of this,
nearly € 50 billion is dedicated to the core activity of RTDI, however
taking a wider measure of innovation (including also entrepreneurship,
innovative ICT and support for related human resource development) it amounts
€ 86 billion..
Synergies of EC funding mechanisms
- When operating individually, the three main EU funding sources for research
and innovation - FP7, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme
(CIP) and the Structural Funds – already act as effective tools. However,
their value can be further enhanced by combining them. A key issue will
therefore be how the Structural Funds in particular will be used in coordination
with other Community instruments.
- In pursuit of this aim, the Commission in August 2007 adopted the
Communication "Competitive European Regions through Research and Innovation - A
contribution to more growth and more and better jobs". The Communication took
stock of the current situation and called on Member States and regions to make
more effective use of the EU Research, Innovation and Cohesion policies and
- In follow-up, the Commission launched a "Practical Guide to EU funding
opportunities for research and innovation" in September 2008. The Practical
Guide provides user-friendly information on how to combine the different funding
sources. It includes a description of each fund, advice for policy makers and an
innovative Checklist and Scorecard. The Checklist and Scorecard allow potential
beneficiaries to identify quickly and exactly how they can access European
funding at every stage of the development and implementation of a project.
- The Commission will also enhance, as far as possible, the compatibility of
accounting and reporting rules for Community funding from these programmes, in
order to further facilitate their combined