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Brussels, 13 September 2011

Breaking down barriers to research – consultation on the European Research Area

The scientific community and other interested groups and individuals are today being asked to help redefine the research landscape in Europe. The European Commission has launched a public consultation to find out how the European research environment can be radically improved. The goal is to achieve the European Research Area (ERA) by 2014, creating a genuine single market for knowledge, research and innovation. This will enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to circulate, compete, and co-operate across borders, increasing growth potential.

What is the European Research Area?

The European Research Area is a Europe-wide open space for knowledge research and innovation. It will enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to move, work and co-operate freely across borders.

What does it aim at?

At the time of its launch in 2000, the objectives of European Research Area were to ensure that Europe was optimally using its research potential and that science and technology delivered solutions to the economic, social and environmental challenges that Europe faced. Today the European Research Area is part of Europe's drive to create an Innovation Union. It aims to make Europe a place where research and innovation thrive and can address the major challenges of our times. A strong research sector is needed to attract and support the development of innovative firms and new products and services.

Why do we need to strengthen the European Research Area?

So far, fragmentation of research prevents Europe from fulfilling its potential and fully exploiting skills and resources for the benefit of European citizens. Furthermore, in today's climate of financial austerity we need to make every euro count.

Good progress has been made. The 2020 ERA Vision adopted in 2008, the implementation of five specific ERA Partnership initiatives led by Member States, and the work of the ERAC (European Research Area Committee) in 2010, are the most concrete changes to date.

However, a new level of ambition is now necessary to improve Europe's performance in research so that the EU can realize its aspirations for leadership and excellence and knowledge-based competitiveness, as well as to satisfy the socio-economic imperatives of its citizens.

Why do we need a public consultation?

The completion of the European Research Area will happen only with the support of the researchers, policy makers, industry, research organisations and other interested stakeholders in the Member States. In addition we need to ensure that we have identified the right key issues related to mobility and transnational research activities in Europe. Therefore their input is necessary to help the Commission to decide on priorities and possible solutions to those issues. The consultation opens on 13 September and closes on 30 November.

Why a consultation now if ERA was launched in 2000?

Good progress has been made since the ERA was launched in 2000. There is now a real political impetus to see even more progress on the ERA. The Lisbon Treaty identifies the ERA as a means to achieve the objective of strengthening the EU's scientific and technological basis. It is an important objective and a legal duty for the EU to create a European Research Area “where researchers, scientific knowledge and technologies circulated freely” (TFEU art. 179.1).

At the European Council of 4 February 2011, EU heads of state and government endorsed the Commission's proposal to create Innovation Union and called for the completion of the European Research Area by 2014 to create a genuine single market for knowledge research and innovation.

What does the European Research Area actually cover?

In order to fill the identified gaps the main aspects covered by ERA relate to:

  • supplying first-class human resources for research and an open, attractive and competitive single European labour market

  • facilitating cross-border operation of research, researchers and research institutions within the EU (coordination and integration of research funding in the EU)

  • developing and maintaining world-class research infrastructures, and ensuring access to them

  • enhancing knowledge circulation across Europe and beyond

  • enabling the EU to be an attractive strategic partner and to engage in effective international cooperation

  • ensuring an effective overall EU research policy strategy in a coordinated manner at and between Member State and EU levels

What will the Commission actually do to strengthen ERA?

The European Commission intends to make a proposal in 2012 for a ERA Framework aimed at establishing a coherent policy framework and at removing the main barriers to free movement of researchers and knowledge in Europe.

What does the Commission intend to propose in the ERA Framework?

The ERA Framework will build on the ongoing Commission-Member States' partnership. It will further develop the partnership, and propose measures in line with the level of ambition of ERA and the challenges that research policy has to address in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy.

What will be the format of an ERA Framework? Will it be a legislative act?

The new Treaty gives for the first time the possibility to propose legislation to achieve ERA. No decision has yet been taken however to use this new possibility. No decision on possible options can be taken until a consensual view on the key obstacles to ERA is agreed. The evidence and analysis of problems and options will be as rigorous and complete as possible.

What is the relation between the Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation funding and the ERA Framework?

The Common Strategic Framework will be the financial pillar of the Union's actions to create the Innovation Union, while the ERA Framework will be its policy pillar creating the right conditions.

Both are closely interlinked: funding measures are crucial to the realisation of ERA, notably through their effect on coordination and governance, common agenda setting, researcher's mobility and pooling of resources; and, through their structuring effect on the European landscape of research institutions. By establishing a unified single market for research and innovation, the ERA Framework will ensure that financial resources can be used with full efficiency, effectiveness and impact across Europe.

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