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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 resources).
  • 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.

Importance of 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 Member States.
  • 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 partner institutions/industries.
  • Returns from knowledge production and from being part of international networks.
  • 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 balanced development

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 Infrastructures (IP/08/1913).
  • 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 European cohesiveness.
  • 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 Infrastructures.
  • 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 complex.

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 Convergence Regions.
  • 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 instruments.
  • 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

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