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EU research and innovation policy

Research, development and innovation are at the heart of the EU’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. They are central to generating economic growth, employment and social cohesion. The EU promotes research, technological development and innovation through the implementation of programmes stimulating cooperation between different research actors in and outside Europe. In addition, the EU engages in the dissemination of research results and promotes training and mobility of researchers. Such activities are designed to compliment the activities carried out by the Member States.

The European Research Area (ERA)

Although the EU dedicates a considerable amount of effort and money to support research, it is at the national level where most resources are made available. To improve effectiveness of resources, research efforts at national and European level need to be coordinated in a way to avoid fragmentation, isolation and compartmentalisation of research efforts and systems. The result of such cooperation is a European Research Area (ERA). The concept of the ERA was approved in 2000 and combines:

  • a European "internal market" for research, where researchers, technology and knowledge freely circulate;
  • effective European-level coordination of national and regional research activities, programmes and policies;
  • initiatives implemented and funded at European level.

Following a Green Paper on the development of ERA the Commission and Member States launched in 2008 new initiatives to further develop this initiative (the so-called "Ljubljana Process")

Strategic Joint Planning and Programming – the SET-Plan

The concept of a common European Research Area is put into practice by the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan). The SET-Plan proposes bringing together decision-makers from the Member States, industry and research and financial communities. Together they should jointly define priorities and propose actions in a structured and mission-oriented way. Thus fragmentation will be overcome and coherence reinforced between national, European and international efforts.

The SET-Plan establishes up a number of innovative mechanisms ensuring its effective implementation. Member States governments are engaged in the Steering Group that defines the overall strategy. On a sectoral level, six European Industrial Iniatives bring together industry active in each of these areas to define ambitious objectives ansd work together towards achieving them. Research centres pool parts of their ressources in the European Energy Research Alliance and try to establish common research agendas.

Instruments – more than just handing out money

EU supports research by providing grants for projects or researchers and facilitating the cooperation of research actors. The most important instrument of the EU for supporting research is the 7th Framework Programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007-2013) or FP7. It provides grants for research projects and researchers and has a budget of more than EUR 50 billion for its seven-year lifetime. Besides the financial support, it advances research by bringing together different organisations from Europe and other parts of the world that are active in the same scientific area. By working together on projects they exchange experience, create links and can continue cooperation even after the project has finished. This trans-national cooperation forms the foundation of the European Research Area.

Technology Platforms provide a more stable framework for cooperation in a specific area. They are led by industry and have the objective to develop a common vision and working towards their implementation.

For cases where a more dedicated mechanism is required to achieve the objectives the concept of the Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) has been developed. They are long-term Public-Private Partnerships that support large-scale multinational research activities in areas of major importance for European society and industry. In the energy field a JTI has been set up for Fuel Cells and Hydrogen.

FP7 is however not the only programme that supports research. For an overview of available funding sources please see the "Founding Sources' section of this website.

International dimension

With intensifying globalisation many challenges – and energy is certainly a point in case – have a global dimension. To tackle them cooperation with countries outside the EU is essential. International cooperation in science and technology is thus a key element of EU research policy.

An overview of international cooperation activities in the filed of energy research please see the International cooperation section of this website.