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What are RPOs?

Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) are non-profit organisations that are not part of a university. They are key players in the national and/or the regional innovation systems and in the European Research Area (ERA), complementing the roles of universities and industries, and often playing an important economic role regionally. They include large national organisations such as TNO (NL), Fraunhofer Gesellschaft (DE), INRA (FR), CSIC (ES) and the Hungarian Academy of Science (HU), but also excellent intergovernmental research organisations with unique research infrastructures such as CERN, EMBL, ESO, ESA, ILL and ESRF as well as a large number of smaller and medium sized entities.

RPOs can have very different legal forms: state agency, foundation, NGO or even an incorporated company or part of a ministry. Their size varies, they can include various numbers of institutes, can be public, private or a mixture of both; their common characteristic is that they are non-profit organisations and perform research in one or in a multitude of domains.

Most RPOs have a mission beyond the performance of basic research. Some RPOs were founded early in the 20th century, or even before, when there was a massive expansion of public sector research establishments. The first large intergovernmental European research organisation was CERN, founded in 1953.

What is the role of RPOs?

RPOs are among the main players in the development and consolidation of the ERA, and strongly contribute to innovation. The activities of RPOs range from basic and applied research to translation of research into solutions to meet business or societal needs. A number of them, notably the renowned intergovernmental organisations (e.g. CERN, EMBL, ESO, ESA, ILL and ESRF), make their research infrastructures available to researchers from all over Europe or even worldwide.
RPOs train Ph.D. candidates and young researchers, but, unlike universities, teaching and awarding degrees is not their core activity (with a few exceptions). Often RPOs have longer-term and larger projects or programmes than universities, operate in a multi-discipline environment on complex research issues, and many of them have a business-like internal management.

It is estimated that of the public funds allocated to research organisations approximately 40% of them go to RPOs and 60% go to universities.

From the above it can be seen that RPOs, both those embedded in their national systems and the intergovernmental research organisations, play an important and substantial role in the ERA. For this reason, the European Commission has engaged in a structured dialogue and cooperation with some intergovernmental RPOs and it is further developing its actions to consolidate (or strengthen the role of?) RPOs in the ERA.

How are RPOs collectively organised?

Seven intergovernmental research organisations are associated in EIROforum. RPOs are also largely present as members of associations such as EARTO, EuroHORCs, ESF and, in a lesser measure, TAFTIE, ALLEA and EASAC.