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European Commission


European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science

European Research Area communication

Press conference/Brussels

17 July 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

Especially in the present economically challenging times, taxpayers want to know that public funding of research, and the results it produces, are put to the best use.

That is why the European Commission has today adopted two important policy papers: on completing the European Research Area and on open access to scientific information. I would like to say a few words about the former, and will then hand over to the Vice President Neelie to talk in more detail about open access. The European Research Area was launched in 2000 with the goal of creating a real single market in knowledge, open to the world. We have had some notable successes: the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, for example, have allowed over 60,000 researchers to move across borders. But in other areas, progress has been patchy. We have identified the science infrastructures we need for the coming decades, but have not necessarily put in place the funding to build them. Less than 1% of national research funding is currently co-ordinated across borders.

And when we asked them last year in a public consultation, the research community complained about a host of barriers to their careers – barriers that we can no longer tolerate if we want to stop the exodus of scientists from Europe.

This situation is particularly worrying because the shift to a globalised knowledge economy has made research one of the most strategic sectors of activity for Europe's economy.

I talk frequently to global business leaders. I always ask them about the factors that persuade them to invest in one country or region over another. A world-class research base is always the first one they mention.

Europe leads in many fields, but we can’t afford to be complacent. We produce more scientific publications than the US, but our publications are less frequently cited than theirs. In other words, we are falling behind when it comes to the very best research with the highest impact. And, of course, competition is intensifying all the time, as China and other emerging economies enter the race.

ERA will help to generate more research excellence in Europe by opening up national funding to pan-European competition and, at the same time, increasing cross-border competition.

That is what top scientists want – to compete and co-operate.

That's what will produce the breakthroughs we need to tackle big, complex challenges, such as climate change or energy security.

That’s why the European Council called in February 2011 and again in March this year for it to be completed by 2014.

Of course, some of you may be asking yourselves why progress will be any faster now than it has been in the past.

Well, apart from the ringing endorsement from the European Council, there are three reasons.

First, we are focusing our efforts on just five areas. They are:

  • More effective research systems – ensuring that funding is allocated on a competitive basis to the best and most productive researchers and research teams;

  • Optimal transnational co-operation and competition – removing the technical barriers which prevent joint actions from getting off the ground, raising quality through Europe-wide open competition, and constructing and effectively running key research infrastructures on a pan-European basis;

  • An open labour market for researchers – we want to ensure that researchers can move as freely between Rome and Riga, or Sofia and Stockholm, as they can between Wisconsin and Washington, or Massachusetts and Minnesota. That means making research grants and pensions portable across borders and ensuring that recruitment to academic positions is fair, transparent and merit-based;

  • Gender equality and mainstreaming in research – to put an end to the scandalous waste of female talent;

  • Broader and faster access to scientific papers and data. Neelie will say more about this in a moment.

The second reason why I believe that success is now in our grasp is the reinforced partnership that we are creating today. I am very pleased to announce that some of the biggest research stakeholder organisations have agreed to support us in completing ERA, and I shall – immediately after this press conference – be signing a joint statement and memoranda of understanding with them.

Finally, a new monitoring system will make it much easier to monitor progress in the five action areas. I will not hesitate to ‘name and shame' Member States who fall behind.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ERA is the policy pillar which accompanies our new research funding programme, Horizon 2020. Our estimations suggest that the two together can give rise to an extra 1% of growth and almost 1 million more jobs per annum by 2030.

These benefits will not be restricted to rich regions which already have strong research systems.

ERA will help all regions to advance through smart specialisation, with each focusing on their areas of strength. Horizon 2020 and the Structural Funds will support this.

But it’s not just the economic arguments that matter.

There are people suffering from serious diseases waiting for effective treatments. There are a billion people without enough to eat and the number is growing.

We can tackle problems like these more effectively if we work together, both at European and international level.

ERA will help us to do that.

Twelve years after its launch, it is an idea whose time has now come. We must act quickly to turn it into a reality.

Thank you.

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