European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
ERA Conference 2012: Fostering Efficiency, Excellence and Growth
ERA Conference 2012
Brussels, 30 January 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
You might think that this event is badly timed given that there is a general strike today. Well, that was outside of our control, but actually, today is a very important day. Just across the street, Europe's leaders are meeting this evening. Some of you may not see a connection between their meeting and ours. But there is a very clear connection.
Europe faces a debt crisis, certainly. But above all, it’s a growth crisis. The battle for growth has begun. Everything depends on it. No stone can remain unturned. No sector left untouched. Certainly not research which is the lifeblood of the knowledge economy.
Most of us in this room probably believe that Europe has plenty of bright ideas. We just need to get better at transforming them into products and processes. Well, yes and no. Knowledge transfer is a weakness; we will continue to act on it. But that doesn’t mean that we can be complacent about the strength of our science base. Not at all!
In fact, Europe has a deficit vis-à-vis the US, not in terms of scientific publications per se, but at the very upper end of quality, particularly in fast moving new fields.
And, of course, the competition is intensifying all the time, as China and other emerging economies enter the race.
In an increasingly globalised and competitive research landscape, only genuinely world class excellence can cut it, and we in Europe need more of it.
So, we can’t continue with a situation where research funding is not always allocated competitively, where positions are not always filled on merit, where researchers can’t take their grants across borders, where large parts of Europe are not even in the game, and where there is a scandalous waste of female talent.
All too often, when I travel abroad, I meet European graduates who tell me they don’t want to come home. They tell me that European universities are closed shops, that career structures are not clear enough, that the working conditions are not attractive enough, and that they just don’t see a future for themselves here.
We’re asking a lot of our scientists today. We’re looking to them to solve big, complex problems and to do so very quickly. To do this, they need to collaborate, but we’re not making this easy. We’re not creating the conditions they need to meet our expectations of them.
We’re also letting the taxpayer down. We need a functioning ERA to avoid unnecessary duplication of research and infrastructure investment at national level.
But, above all, we need a functioning ERA to generate more competition. Pan-European competition is more effective than competition organised within national borders. The selection pool is simply bigger.
Just as the Single Market made our businesses more competitive externally, by exposing them to more competition in the home market, ERA will do the same for our universities, faculties and research teams.
This is the only way to justify continuing investment in research against a backdrop of austerity. They used to say “no taxation without representation”. Well I say “no investment without reform!” The two must go together. The taxpayer demands as much.
We also have to close the innovation divide. I want to support this process, both through Horizon 2020 itself, and by developing the synergies between the Structural Funds and Horizon 2020.
But the problem can’t be solved through EU support alone. It requires far reaching change at national level. ERA can be the catalyst for this. It can trigger a process of so-called “smart specialisation” with more regions thinking critically about where their strengths lie and choosing to focus on those areas.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am no integrationist! I don’t believe that it’s necessary – or desirable - to create a single research area. It is important to be clear about ERA is and what it isn’t. It is not about abolishing national research systems. It is about making them more inter-operable, more connected and more open to competition. I am determined to achieve this.
When I launched the public consultation, I said I wanted it to be as broad and inclusive as possible. It has been. So what has it told us?
Unsurprisingly, concerns about research careers and mobility figured strongly, not just because many individual researchers participated, but also because these questions go to heart of ERA as an area where researchers and knowledge can circulate freely.
The responses from research stakeholder organisations, as well as from the Member States, however, also stress cross-border co-operation, open access and international co-operation as priorities that need our attention.
And, overall, the public response is overwhelmingly in support of developing ERA. This makes me even more convinced that we are on the right track, and more determined to take the next steps as quickly as possible.
So, what is our plan? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve heard a lot about what has been achieved over the past eleven years through voluntary means, but frankly, I haven’t seen much evidence of it on the ground. When I think about how important ERA is, of what is at stake, and of the poor track record of achievement so far, it seems to me that the case for legislation, using the new Treaty provisions, is compelling.
However, I am also keenly aware of the urgency of the situation, given the growth emergency that we are facing, and I know that it could take a very long time to get any legislation adopted, transposed and implemented. It’s a risk that I don’t feel that I can take.
For this reason, I am minded to choose a different course. But before anyone is tempted to heave a sigh of relief, let me tell you straight away, this will not mean business as usual.
I want this to be an entirely new chapter in the ERA-partnership. I want it to be smarter, sharper and more focused. The Communication in June will identify a small number of ‘big ticket’ items which are crucial for achieving ERA and will make the biggest impact on the economy.
Fair, transparent, merit based recruitment, for instance. Or specific measures to support women’s scientific careers. More grant mobility. Staying with nationally funded, nationally organised calls, but making increased use of single, international peer reviews to ensure greater competition and excellence. By focusing our energies on just a few ideas, we can achieve much more.
I want the new ERA-partnership to be broader, with a stronger role for stakeholders. I intend to invite representatives of the major research stakeholders – both those who fund and those who do the research - to sign up to a formal joint commitment with the Commission to deliver on the main priority measures in the ERA Framework.
These "ERA-Pacts" will not be empty declarations of intentions. Each one will contain a clear roadmap, based on common objectives, with precise, realistic deliverables for research actors and for the Commission, and clear deadlines for achieving them.
I want to progress rapidly and sign the Pacts, with their roadmaps, as soon as the Commission adopts the ERA Framework, by the middle of this year.
I want to say to representatives of key stakeholder organisations who are here today: you have a vital role to play in the realisation of ERA. The Commission wants to work with you, as valued and equal partners, to achieve key objectives.
Most importantly of all, if we are not going to regulate, Member States must agree to a much greater degree of transparency and accountability. The Commission will carefully measure their progress towards ERA objectives. I intend each year to state very publicly how well, or how badly, each Member State is doing. I will not shy away from “naming and shaming.”
And today, I am setting a date, at the end of 2013, when there will be a thorough and honest stock take of progress. This will be a moment of truth. If progress is insufficient, I will not hesitate to recommend to my successor that he or she should make use of the new Treaty provisions to propose legislation. As far as I am concerned, the non-legislative approach is in the last chance saloon!
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have been tasked by the Heads of State and Government - the very people who are meeting this evening - with putting in place the measures necessary to complete ERA by 2014. We must rise to the challenge.
Of course it won’t be easy. Some of the changes will be difficult and challenging. But the situation is now so grave that we must be prepared to take risks and to make sacrifices which would have seemed inconceivable a few years ago.
The situation could hardly be more urgent. There is no time to lose. No excuse for delay. With Europe crying out for growth, ERA simply can’t wait any longer!
So let’s all roll up our sleeves and get on with achieving it.