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Various national systems of Research Ethics Committees operating at different levels have been established in the 25 Member States. Research Ethics bodies have also been established in other countries within the European Research Area (ERA). As committees are working independently, their methods of operation vary widely within each country and from country to country.

The regulatory framework existing at national and European level does require that research activities would not contravene fundamental ethical principles. But further efforts are needed to promote pan-European dialogue, better awareness-raising, networking and understanding between researchers, regulators and ethicists; effective and more consistent ethical evaluation of research at local, national, European and international levels, which also takes account of cultural differences. This effort can favour the responsible use of research across the EU, in the name of pluralism and diversity, but also in the name of an approach where science and ethics are interconnected, where dialogue, tolerance and mutual learning are seen as pragmatic steps to take to achieve the goals above.

On 27 & 28 January, 2005, the European Commission invited representatives of local or regional ethics committees in Europe to attend the conference “Research Ethics Committees in Europe: facing the future together” to open such a debate and to gather together as many RECs as possible in order to identify the state of the art. Good practices, obstacles and pitfalls have been considered, thus leading to recommendations for future activities.