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"The importance of research infrastructures for Europe" Conference on Research Infrastructures Copenhagen, 21 March 2012

European Commission - SPEECH/12/207   21/03/2012

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SPEECH/12/207

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

"The importance of research infrastructures for Europe"

Conference on Research Infrastructures

Copenhagen, 21 March 2012

Minister Ostergaard, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe's current crisis is above all a growth crisis. The traditional approaches are no longer working. We need to not only get our fiscal policy back on track, but also to become more competitive. At the same time, we are confronted by ever more complex challenges such as climate change, food and energy security and an ageing population. These are not just Europe's problems, but global issues that require international, coordinated responses.

Our economy, our society, and our well-being, all depend on being able to create jobs and improve our quality of life in a sustainable way.

I know only one way of addressing these daunting challenges: by putting research and innovation at the heart of our efforts. The Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth does just that. It sets the EU the clear goal of investing 3% of GDP in Europe in research and innovation, a target that we simply must achieve.

But reaching this goal will mean having a million more researchers in Europe, carrying out high-quality work. If we are going to train and attract the best scientists to do the best science, they will need excellent facilities and infrastructure.

At a time of fiscal constraint, it is even more important to make the best use of scarce public funds by cooperating between countries on research infrastructures. This cooperation is proceeding well between European countries, and I am delighted that this conference broadens the scope to cooperation at the international level.

Earlier today, I was honoured to take part in the inauguration of the new Danish National Biobank. This is not only an impressive and unique resource for Denmark, but it sets a standard for Europe and beyond in providing the means by which basic discoveries on the origin of diseases can be made, for drug design, and for the development of new medical products and therapies.

Put simply, this undertaking is a perfect example of what research infrastructures are all about: giving our researchers the facilities and tools they need to carry out the best research and to make the greatest innovations.

As a flagship initiative of Europe 2020, Innovation Union, launched 18 months ago, sets out the 34 detailed commitments that are needed to reach our goals in research, innovation and science. Of course, research infrastructures are a crucial part of the plan. This builds on the work of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, ESFRI, which was established 10 years ago with support from the Commission.

ESFRI's most visible achievement has been its 2006 Roadmap, and the successive updates. The roadmap identifies 48 priority infrastructures for Europe. The ESFRI process led to the creation of national roadmaps in many European countries, helping improve coordination and work between the national and European levels.

Innovation Union has given a new impetus to our efforts with a specific commitment to launch or complete at least 60% of the new infrastructures on the ESFRI roadmap by 2015. That's an ambitious target. But we are throwing all our efforts behind it and I am confident that with the support of Member States we will achieve it.

But, crucial though this is, we are not just offering policy support and coordination at the European level. We are also providing financial support through the current 7th EU Framework Programme for Research, which we propose to strengthen in the new EU programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020.

Horizon 2020 is a key part of the Commission's proposals for the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020. The Commission has proposed a modern and forward looking EU Budget – one which has research and innovation at its core.

The European Commission has proposed a total investment of 80 billion Euro in Horizon 2020, and the discussions on this proposal with the European Parliament and Council are underway. I am pleased to say that the Council discussions are proceeding rapidly under the capable stewardship of the Danish Presidency.

Horizon 2020 will mark a break with the past as it brings together, in a single coherent programme, all of the Union's funding for research and innovation.

Horizon 2020's simplified structure is composed of three distinct, yet mutually reinforcing priorities.

Innovation starts with excellent research. Horizon 2020's First Pillar is aimed at boosting excellence in Europe's science base. A proposed investment of over 24 billion Euro will enable the most talented scientists to carry out cutting edge research of the highest quality. We propose to double to more than 13 billion Euro our support to the very successful European Research Council, or ERC, securing the best basic research that leads to the greatest technological breakthroughs and innovations.

This kind of basic research is fundamental to securing an excellent science base. The ERC is offering unprecedented opportunities to world-class scientists of any nationality to conduct excellent research in Europe. This pillar also includes dedicated support to research infrastructures because the best infrastructure must go hand in hand with this drive to attract and support the best researchers.

Horizon 2020's Second Pillar aims to boost industrial leadership, with actions to make Europe a more attractive place for businesses to invest in R&D and innovation. We will invest nearly 18 billion Euro under this pillar, including targeted support for the key enabling and industrial technologies that underpin innovation across different industries and sectors. This includes ICT, nanotechnologies, advanced materials, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing processes and space.

The Third Pillar focuses on Tackling Societal Challenges, which will receive nearly 32 billion Euro of funding. It is proposed to focus on six challenges: Health, demographic change and wellbeing; Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine research and the bio-economy; Secure, clean and efficient energy; Smart, green and integrated transport; Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials; and, Inclusive, innovative and secure societies.

Under the first pillar on ‘Excellent Science’ we are proposing to increase investment in research infrastructures to 2.5 billion Euro. What do we intend to do with this money?

Horizon 2020 will support the implementation and operation of ESFRI and other world-class research infrastructures. It will integrate national research infrastructures and facilitate transnational access to these infrastructures, as a continuation of the very successful FP7 Integrating Activities. Horizon 2020 will also support the development, deployment and operation of e-infrastructures; foster the innovation potential and the human resources of research infrastructures; and reinforce European policy and international cooperation.

Horizon 2020 offers an integrated approach. This will allow us to link the activities on research infrastructures with other funding to increase excellence, as well as tackling the societal challenges and boosting industrial leadership.

Indeed, while research infrastructures are critical for basic science, they can also act as an anchor for technology and innovation development and provide the focal point for developing innovation clusters. Such clusters stimulate knowledge transfer from academia to business – from research to commercialisation - bringing together universities, research centres, enterprises and regional authorities.

Because of their impact on economic development, the Commission expects significant investments in research infrastructures from the new round of the EU Structural Funds.

We will therefore be looking for even greater synergies between Horizon 2020 and Structural Funds, based on regional smart specialisation strategies - where regions and countries focus on and invest in their particular strengths. Clusters based around top-quality research infrastructures will play a major role in creating these synergies.

Research infrastructures are also an important component of the European Research Area, an open space for knowledge in Europe. During our recent public consultation on how to achieve the European Research Area, researchers told us that infrastructure was one of the most important issues for them.

I think that it is fair to say that past and ongoing actions on research infrastructures have indeed helped to overcome the fragmentation of European research and helped to build the European Research Area.

Besides the establishment of ESFRI, another success has been the creation of a specific legal framework for pan-European research infrastructures, the European Research Infrastructures Consortium or "ERIC" for short. Two ERIC infrastructures have already been successfully established: SHARE and CLARIN in the field of the Social Sciences and Humanities. Building on these successes, the Commission will propose later this year, an ERA framework that puts in place the necessary measures to complete the ERA by 2014.

But I'd like to get down to specifics and give you a few examples of the kind of infrastructures that feature on the ESFRI Roadmap, in fields that are closely linked to the three parallel sessions of this conference.

ECRIN, the European Clinical Research Infrastructures Network, helps researchers conduct multinational clinical studies, in any disease area, overcoming the fragmentation of Europe's health and legislative systems that can hamper multinational research. ECRIN is particularly useful for SME-sponsored clinical trials and for research on rare diseases where international cooperation is crucial in providing samples that are big enough for clinical research.

In the field of environmental sciences, LIFEWATCH, is an e-science and technology infrastructure for biodiversity and ecosystem research for the scientific community and other users, while EU-SOLARIS will network world-class solar research centres in five European countries with the aim of supporting the development of Concentrating Solar Power Systems.

All three examples are tackling major challenges faced by our society. These challenges are global and our responses must be global too. This also means cooperating internationally to make the best use of our infrastructures.

The complexity of the facilities and the global nature of the challenges make international cooperation to develop and run global research infrastructures a task that needs everyone on board. ESFRI, for its part, has identified those projects that would benefit from international cooperation. These include the "EURO-ARGO" infrastructure for ocean observations, the "ELIXIR" infrastructure for biological information, and the Square Kilometre Array.

The establishment of the ad hoc Group of Senior Officials for global research infrastructures, with representatives of the G8 and five other countries, is a major step forward in fulfilling another Innovation Union commitment, namely, agreeing with international partners to develop infrastructures that, owing to cost, complexity or the requirements of interoperability, can only be developed on a global scale.

The European Commission is actively supporting the Group's efforts to draft a framework for international cooperation. The Commission also attaches high importance to this conference, and two of my fellow Commissioners will address the closing session. I have very high expectations for tangible results.

The conference's strong international focus is very welcome indeed. I hope that it will act as a catalyst to the opening-up, the "globalisation" if you will, of national and regional infrastructures.

Before I finish, I would just like to thank the Danish Presidency for organising this conference with the European Commission.

We have a very impressive roster of speakers and participants from all across the globe. They bring with them extensive experience in policy making and management from some of the leading research centres and finest facilities in the world. I am very confident that you will give us, as policy makers, many worthwhile ideas and recommendations.

In particular, the experience gained from existing major global infrastructures or initiatives, as well as national ones will be extremely valuable. I am keen to see both a long-term vision and practical suggestions emerge from your discussions.

I look forward to the results of the conference. I am confident that we will seize the chance to create a new chapter in developing the facilities and infrastructures worldwide that our scientists need and deserve. In doing so, we will be acting not just for science, but for the wellbeing of our economy and our society.

Thank you.


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