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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science

International Conference on Research Infrastructures 2014


Athens, 2 April 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be with you in Athens today.

It's a pleasure to see you again, Minister Arvanitopoulos, and also Dr Christos Vasilakos, who I know is an expert in research infrastructures from his time at the European Commission.

Who can come to Athens without seeing one of the jewels for which the city is most famous?

Earlier today I had the privilege of a guided tour of the Acropolis museum. There I saw a wonderful demonstration of research infrastructure in action. High-power laser technology is being used to preserve ancient works of art.

This is a great example of state-of-the-art technology meeting ancient craftsmanship. It shows perfectly how research infrastructures cannot just support cutting edge research, but can also preserve and showcase our cultural heritage – something that is so important for Greece and for Europe.

Europe's genius for innovation and invention can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece. But coming back to the present, the innovation challenges that our continent faces are so great that they demand action on a Europe-wide scale.

And the size and complexities of the challenges we face as a society demand that we all look outward. We have to work together with the very best researchers and innovators, wherever they are in the world.

Research infrastructures play a crucial role in making this happen and I am very pleased that this conference is putting the international dimension of research infrastructures high on everyone's agenda.

Research infrastructures make a very clear contribution to the EU's headline policies to boost growth and jobs and tackle society's biggest challenges.

Foremost amongst these policies is Europe 2020, our strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Science and Innovation are at its heart.

If innovation and top quality research are the life-blood of a vibrant knowledge economy, then perhaps we can think of research infrastructures as the vital supporting skeleton, ensuring our best brains have the facilities and the means to conduct the best research.

Because we need excellent research, and more of it, if we are going to transform the European Union into an Innovation Union.

Innovation provides real benefits for us as citizens, consumers, and workers.

It speeds up and improves the way we develop new products, industrial processes and services. It's the key not just to more jobs, a better society and quality of life, but it's also vital to our competitiveness in global markets.

Research Infrastructures act as centres of innovation and of knowledge transfer to industry and society at large.

The Innovation Union Initiative - one of Europe 2020's seven flagships - sets out a strategic approach to boosting innovation and removing the bottlenecks that hinder the best ideas from reaching the market.

It also focuses Europe's efforts – and our co-operation with international partners - on the issues that matter to all of us, like climate change, energy, food security and health.

Here again, infrastructures play a strong role, a role that will be highlighted in the parallel sessions at this conference.

While Europe 2020 and Innovation Union comprise the policy framework, Horizon 2020 provides the investment in research and innovation to reach their objectives.

Launched last December, over the next seven years Horizon 2020 will invest nearly 80 billion euro in excellent research and the very best innovation.

We need excellent scientists for excellent science.

And excellent scientists rely on excellent infrastructure for their work.

This is why research infrastructures are instrumental in all the priorities defined by Horizon 2020.

The programme includes a significantly increased budget of 2.5 billion euro to develop and support research infrastructures, across a broad range of areas such as health and food, the environment, social and cultural innovation, physics and engineering, as well as ICT.

I'm excited about Horizon 2020's action in this area, which will build on the success of the Seventh Framework Programme's Integrating Activities and continue to integrate national research infrastructures and increase access to them.

Horizon 2020 will support the implementation and operation of infrastructures on the ESFRI roadmap and other world-class research infrastructures.

Of course, infrastructures mean more than labs and research facilities. Horizon 2020 will also support the development of pan-European datasets such as the European Social Survey that I had the pleasure of launching as a European research infrastructure consortium three months ago in London.

Since Horizon 2020 is a programme for innovation as well as the research that underpins it, we will also pay special attention to fostering the innovation potential of infrastructures.

We'll reinforce European policy and international cooperation, including through this Forum, and we'll be actively looking for synergies between Horizon 2020 and the European Structural and Investment Funds that also emphasise the potential of infrastructures to boost research and innovation.

So, Horizon 2020 represents a major step forward.

But we're certainly not starting from scratch. I'm determined to ensure that Horizon 2020 reinforces and builds on existing actions on research infrastructures that have made a major contribution to the European Research Area – our plan for an open space for research and knowledge in Europe.

For example, ensuring that our scientists have access to Europe's best research infrastructures, irrespective of borders, is a basic component of the free circulation of knowledge with the European Research Area – the so-called 'fifth freedom".

We made major progress with the setting-up of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, better known as ESFRI, some 12 years ago, with very active support from the European Commission.

ESFRI's most high-profile achievement is the roadmap established in 2006. With successive updates, it now identifies 48 new Research Infrastructures, representing combined construction costs of 20 billion euro.

The process of developing this European roadmap had a ripple effect in the EU Member States, leading to the creation of national roadmaps in many European countries. This is a very welcome process since it makes it much easier to create synergies between work at European and national levels.

But ESFRI also thinks globally and encourages scientific collaboration and the pooling of resources on a worldwide scale. Some of the pan-European infrastructures on the roadmap are aimed at international partnerships.

One of the most important and exciting of these is the Square Kilometre Array that brings together 55 institutes from 19 countries to explore the universe.

On the initiative of the European Commission, another success has been the creation of a specific legal framework for European Research Infrastructures, the European Research Infrastructures Consortium, ERIC.

To date six ERICs have been established, in the areas of Health and Ageing; Common Language Resources; the Translational Research Infrastructure in Medicine; Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources, Clinical trials and Biotherapy, and the European Social Survey that I mentioned earlier.

Even with those short titles, you can probably see connections to some of the societal challenges that Europe and other regions of the world are facing.

The global nature of these issues is reason enough to collaborate with partners outside Europe and to develop and share global research infrastructures.

But apart from the scientific advantages, there's also a clear economic imperative for the EU to cooperate on research infrastructures not just within Europe, but internationally too.

The added advantage for European and other taxpayers is that international cooperation on infrastructures provides economy of scale and promises a more efficient use of scarce budgets.

I know that your work on this issue will be welcomed not just by me, but also by my colleague Vice President Rehn who, as the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary affairs, is actively encouraging the EU's Member States to make more effective use of their research budgets.

The European Commission is very committed to a stronger international dimension of our action on research infrastructures.

Here are just a few examples.

Initial talks to identify common areas of interest with the Chinese Academy of Sciences are scheduled for later this year, while the Asia-Pacific ICRI preparatory event held in Australia last November was another major boost to international collaboration.

Closer to home, the Trans-Atlantic Research Alliance launched last year brings the EU, Canada and the United States together to work on marine and arctic research, including infrastructures.

Finally I would also like to mention the project Promoting African – European Research Infrastructure Partnerships, dedicated to promote research infrastructure partnerships between Europe and Africa.

I hope that these few examples show that our plans are already being put into action, on a worldwide scale. So the organisation of ICRI 2014 - a major event with a global reach – is very timely.

I would like to express my thanks to the Greek Presidency for co-organising it with the European Commission.

This conference offers a great opportunity to encourage the opening and the internationalisation of national and regional research infrastructures for everybody's benefit.

I am confident that both a long-term vision as well as practical suggestions will emerge from your discussions.

Europe, with its ambition to create a "European ecosystem of research infrastructures" is very willing to bring to the discussion its experience in strengthening a global ecosystem of research infrastructures.

These experiences would certainly be useful in the discussions on Governance of Research Infrastructures, which should build on the Framework for Research Infrastructures, as presented by the Group of Senior Officials.

Increasingly, research relies on data: access to data, handling and processing of data, and the possibilities of exploiting of data. We're only beginning to explore the research and innovation possibilities presented by Big Data.

This conference presents a golden opportunity to take forward the discussions that are taking place in many groups and fora, including the Research Data Alliance that the European Commission set up with Australia and the United States.

The Alliance encourages researchers and innovators to share data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address our grand societal challenges.

Vice President Neelie Kroes will tell you more about data, digital science and e-infrastructures in her video speech to the conference tomorrow.

And at ICRI 2014, we welcome a new community to the research infrastructure family: paleo-anthropology.

I am curious to see what this community can produce and how it will interact with more established research infrastructures.

This community showcases some very interesting examples of how “new” disciplines use “old” research infrastructures and techniques in a truly cross-disciplinary way. This is an example that could be taken up by other disciplines.

I have in front of me the programme for the coming days and I am impressed by the high profile and expertise of the participants who have come from across the globe.

You bring to this forum huge experience in policy making and management, from some of the finest facilities in the world.

So I have no doubt that your discussions will be very stimulating and that you'll come up with many good ideas.

I am counting on you, the experts and stakeholders, to make specific recommendations on better international cooperation on global research infrastructures to respond to societal challenges.

I wish great success to ICRI 2014 and I look forward to hearing the results of your discussions.

Thank you.

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