What is the European Research Area?
The concept of a European Research Area (ERA) was officially proposed by the European Commission in January 2000, in its Communication “Towards a European Research Area” [198 Kb]. It was launched in March 2000 at the Lisbon European Council and has received the support of the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the Member States and Associated States. Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has made the establishment of ERA his principal goal.
|Commissioner Busquin with a hydrogen powered bus (Courtesy of Kevin Drake)|
The basic idea underpinning the ERA is that the issues and challenges of the future cannot be met without much greater “integration” of Europe’s research efforts and capacities.
There are three main objectives in the concept of the European Research Area:
- The creation of an “internal market” for research, within which researchers, technology and knowledge will be able to move freely. This will lead to increased co-operation, more competition and better allocation of resources.
- Improving co-ordination between national research policies and activities.
- The development of a European research policy which covers not only funding matters, but broader issues such as the role of science and technology in society.
Why was it established?
There is a strong tradition of science and innovation in Europe and, in many areas of research, European teams are the best in the world. However, in many fields, European researchers are increasingly unable to compete with teams from other major countries such as the United States and Japan. Research is also good for the economy, and the products which are the end result of research and innovation bring benefits to everyone.
- Research funding (both public and private) is lower in Europe than in competing countries, and this gap is widening.
- European research activities are currently fragmented, with most research being carried out in the framework of national and regional programmes.
- Because there is no coherent Community research policy, national research policies often overlap, while other areas are not studied anywhere.
- Many problems (e.g. climate change) are pan-European in nature, and require a co-ordinated approach by all the Member States.
- Increasing levels of R&D in industry creates jobs and improves competitiveness.
- Research and technology account for a large proportion of economic growth, and have a positive influence on the quality of life of all Europeans.
Progress so far
- Activities are underway in many areas, including benchmarking of national policies, mapping centres of excellence, research infrastructures, private investment in research, electronic networks for research and issues relating to science and society.
- In some areas Europe-wide fora bringing together actors from the public and private sectors have already been set up.
- The scientific community and industry have spontaneously set up initiatives to further the aims of ERA.
- National research organisations are forging and strengthening links with one another, and setting up exchange programmes for researchers.
Despite these advances, much remains to be done before the European Research Area can truly become a reality. One of the most important factors is the role of the Member States; in areas where they are involved, real steps forward have been made. Similarly, progress has also been made in areas which are well defined and where action is already taking place at the local level.
What is being done in energy research?
- Work on thermonuclear fusion has been co-ordinated at a European level for many years. This led to the construction of the JET device, and Europe is now a driving force behind the plans to construct the “Next Step” device, ITER.
- As for Sustainable Energy Systems is concerned, the launch of ERA led to the establishment under FP5 of thematic networks, project clusters and specific ERA-oriented projects in all areas covered by the work programme. A study on the development of the ERA in Sustainable Energy Systems has also been carried out and the results are now available.
- A High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells was launched in October 2002, and technology platforms on other renewable energy sources are also planned.
- Research into nuclear fission and radiation protection has a strong history of European co-operation, and thematic networks set up under FP5 will enhance already existing alliances.
Much of the work on ERA is being carried out through the Sixth Framework Programme, through the activity areas “Integrating and strengthening the European Research Area (ERA)” and “Structuring the ERA”. The new instruments (Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects) will have a particularly important role to play in this respect. The aim of Networks of Excellence and, to a lesser extent, Integrated Projects, is to encourage the best research teams in Europe to link up and form lasting bonds which will remain in place when the project has ended.
- There is still little knowledge within the Commission of national and regional R&D programmes.
- Mechanisms of support for topics which do not fall within the Framework Programmes remain unclear.
- Mobility of researchers across Europe is seen as a major barrier to the implementation of ERA.
- Levels of industry and SME participation in research remain low.
- Member States need to get more involved in the implementation of ERA.
- The liberalisation of the energy markets has lead to increased competition among suppliers. As a result industrial research budgets have fallen and companies are less willing to risk using new, untried technologies.
- All Member States have energy research programmes. However, the topics they cover vary from country to country and while some areas of research are duplicated, others are not covered at all.