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What are RPOs?

Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) are nonprofits research organisations that are not part of a university. They are key players of the national innovation system and of ERA, complementing the roles of universities and industries. They include large national organisations such as Max Planck Gesellschaft (DE), CNRS (FR) CSIC (ES) and the Hungarian Academy of Science, but also excellent intergovernmental research organisations with unique research infrastructures such as CERN, EMBL, ESO, ESA, ILL, ESRF and EFDA.

RPOs can be of very different legal forms: state agency, foundation, NGO or even an incorporated company or part of a ministry. They can be of different sizes, consist of a various number of institutes, be public, private or a mixture of both; their common characteristic is that they are non-profit organisations.

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 in the second half of that century. The first intergovernmental large 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 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 intergovernmental organisations (e.g. CERN, EMBL, ESO, ESA, ILL, ESRF and EFDA), 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 and many of them have more of a business-like internal management.
OECD estimates that over 40 % of public research funds are allocated to RPOs.

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 European Research Area.

For this reason, the European Commission has engaged in structured dialogue and cooperation with some intergovernmental RPOs and it is further developing analysis and monitoring on the situation and needs of RPOs.

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.