Brussels, 2 June 2009
Commission proposes a legal framework for European Research Infrastructures – Q & A
1. Why are research infrastructures so important?
Research infrastructures play an increasing role in the advancement of knowledge and technology. Scientific progress would be impossible without state of the art super-computers or, for instance, large-scale X-Ray systems.
Responding to challenges like climate change is greatly helped by environmental research facilities such as deep sea floor observatories, icebreaker research vessels or at mospheric observation networks. Advances in medical research also strongly benefit from the use of large databases or bio-banks, and/or of powerful systems of imaging, to name just a few other key facilities.
By offering unique research services, by attracting young people to science and through networking of facilities, research infrastructures help structure the scientific community and play therefore a key role in the construction of an efficient research and innovation environment. Because of their ability to assemble a 'critical mass' of people and investment, they contribute to national, regional and European economic development. They are therefore at the core of the knowledge triangle of research, education and innovation.
2. What is the problem?
As the frontiers of research evolve and become more advanced and as our technologies progress, those research infrastructures are becoming increasingly complex and more expensive , often placing them beyond the reach of a single research group, region, nation or even continent. The sheer size of such projects (generally several hundreds of millions of Euros for construction and several tens of millions of Euros for operation) requires a joint effort by several EU countries .
A major difficulty in setting up such research infrastructures between EU countries is the lack of an adequate legal framework allowing the creation of appropriate partnerships . Existing legal forms under national law do not fully satisfy the needs of these new European infrastructures. The same applies to legal forms under international or EU law.
3. What is the solution?
It is in this context that the European Commission, responding to requests from EU countries and the scientific community, is proposing a legal framework for a European research infrastructure (ERI) more adapted to the needs of such facilities.
This new legal framework will provide a legal personality recognised in all Member States.
It will reflect the spirit of a truly European venture, but will still allow the participation of non-European countries. Flexible enough to adapt to the requirements of the different facilities, it would be easy to use. Some of the privileges and exemptions of international organisations (e.g. VAT exemption) could be provided, which would facilitate negotiations between the countries involved.
4. Who will benefit?
The main beneficiaries of the new legal framework will be European researchers gaining access to efficient, world-class new research facilities. The new legal framework also offers the chance to cut down drastically on the time necessary for the setting-up of such European Research Infrastructures, allowing them to become operational as soon as possible, which is crucial in the quickly evolving world of science.
5. How will it work?
Member States interested in establishing research infrastructures with the status of ERI would submit an application. This should include a declaration that the host Member State confirms that the ERI will be an 'international body' for VAT purposes and hence exempt from VAT.
Membership of an ERI can also include third countries and intergovernmental organisations.
The European Commission and a competent committee of representatives of Member States will examine the file and, if all criteria are met, a decision will be adopted to grant the status of a "European Research Infrastructure (ERI)". This will allow the new organisation to start its activities for the construction and operation of the new facility.
6. When will it happen?
The Regulation will be formally adopted at a forthcoming Council. The Regulation will enter into force 20 days following its publication in the Official Journal. Following the development of related implementation procedures, the legal framework should be effective before the end of 2009.
7. What will be the legal status of an ERI?
An ERI is a legal entity with legal personality and full legal capacity recognised in all Member States.
Its internal structure is very flexible, allowing the members to define, in the Statutes, their member rights and obligations, the organs and their competences and other internal arrangements.
The ERI shall also be considered as an international body in the sense of the directives on value-added tax and will thus be exempted from VAT.
The legal basis of the proposal is Article 171 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.
8. Are there existing provisions in this area?
Recent work carried out under the auspices of the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) 1 has recognised that existing legal forms under national law (e.g. the French soci é té civile, the German Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH), the UK limited liability company (Ltd) or the Dutch stichting (foundation)) do not fulfil the needs of these new research infrastructures. The analysis is similar for existing legal forms under international or Community law (e.g. international/intergovernmental organisations, European Economic Interest Groupings). ESFRI thus identified a need to develop a dedicated Community legal framework for setting-up European research infrastructures involving several Member States.
The proposed legislation is therefore designed to facilitate the joint establishment and operation of research facilities of European interest among several Member States and countries associated to the Community R&D Framework Programme, and to help develop further the European policy for research infrastructures. This should complement the advances already achieved since 2004, in particular through ESFRI. A wide-ranging consultation has been carried out to prepare this initiative, including analysis conducted by experts and consultation of stakeholders.
9. How were the Member States involved in the discussions leading up to the legal framework?
The necessity for joint efforts by several Member states in order to build expensive world class infrastructures was recognised by the Competitiveness Councils of 1-3 July 2004 and of 25-26 November 2004. The Council emphasized the need for the development of a European strategy in the field of research infrastructures.
The Competitiveness Council of 30 May 2008 reiterated the need to develop research infrastructures at European level, on the basis of, among other things, efficient coordination and an appropriate legal framework.
The Council mandated ESFRI, to develop a strategic roadmap for Europe for the next generation of research infrastructures.
In October 2006, ESFRI released the first ever European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures containing 35 key projects of European interest to be developed in the next 10-20 years. The Roadmap was updated in 2008 to include 44 projects; the challenge now is to implement them. Member States are now identifying the main projects from the roadmap which are of interest to them.
10. How does this relate to the Lisbon Strategy?
Since the Communication of the EU Commission "Towards a European Research Area" of January 2000 the idea of a common European Research Area (ERA) has been the guiding principle for all Community R&D measures and a central pillar in realising the research goals of the Lisbon Strategy. In the 2007 ERA Green Paper "The European Research Area: New Perspectives" a number of key areas have been identified where effective action in partnerships between Member States would have the potential to deliver significant gains for Europe's research system and help to create a "fifth freedom" in Europe - the freedom of movement of knowledge.
In this context, "Developing world class research infrastructures" is put forward as one of the pillars of an ambitious ERA development providing in turn growth, jobs and the basis for a dynamic and knowledge-based European economy.