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From concept to reality

Launched at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, the creation of a European Research Area was given new impetus in 2007 with the European Commission's Green Paper on ERA. In 2008, the Council set in motion the Ljubljana Process to improve the political governance of ERA and adopted a shared ERA 2020 vision. Concrete progress is being made via a series of new partnership initiatives proposed by the Commission in 2008.

2000-2006: A great project supported by many actions…

The creation of a European Research Area (ERA) was proposed by the European Commission in its communication Towards a European Research Area of January 2000.

The objective of creating ERA was endorsed by the EU shortly afterwards at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council

In the following years, many actions were taken to progress in creating ERA.

  • The EU Research Framework Programmes were explicitly designed to support the creation of ERA. New initiatives launched in conjunction with the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013), such as the European Research Council, will have an important impact on the European research landscape. The European Institute of Technology should also play a substantial role in creating world-class 'knowledge and innovation communities'.
  • Initiatives were launched to improve the coordination of research activities and programmes. They include the European Technology Platforms, through which industry and other stakeholders develop shared long-term visions and strategic research agendas in areas of business interest, and the bottom-up ERA-Net scheme which supports the coordination of national and regional programmes.
  • Policy coordination is addressed through the 'open method of coordination' and the use of voluntary guidelines and recommendations, stimulating a process of debate and reforms at national level.
  • In 2002, the Barcelona European Council set a target for EU R&D investment intensity to approach 3% of GDP.  Subsequently, the Commission proposed an extensive action plan to increase and improve R&D expenditure in Europe and all Member States set national R&D investment targets linked to the overall 3% objective.
  • In 2006, the EU adopted a broad-based innovation strategy aiming to improve the framework conditions for research and innovation. In this context, for example, a modernised Community framework for State aid for research and innovation was adopted in November 2006, and initiatives have been taken to support the emergence of European 'lead markets' in promising technology-intensive sectors.
  • EU cohesion policy and its financial instruments - the Structural Funds - give strong priority to the development of research and innovation capacities, particularly in less developed regions. Together with the priority given in most Member States' internal policies, this can help the whole of Europe to participate in and derive full benefit from the European Research Area. These initiatives are valuable steps on which further progress can be built.
… But limited progress

However, after seven years, much ground work remained to be done to build ERA, particularly to overcome the fragmentation which remained a prevailing characteristic of the European public research base.

2007 to date: the relaunch of ERA

The Commission decided to give renewed impetus to the construction of ERA in 2007. It published a Green Paper on ERA calling to end the fragmentation of the European research landscape. A wide public consultation confirmed the main policy orientations set out in the Green Paper.

Following this, in 2008 the Member States and the Commission launched a new political partnership, called the "Ljubljana Process", to overcome fragmentation and build a strong ERA.

As a first step, the Member States and the Commission defined a shared 2020 vision for ERA towards which they are now focusing their programmes and policies. The Council adopted this vision in December 2008.

In parallel, following Commission proposals, the Member States launched "partnership" initiatives to increase cooperation in five areas the careers, working conditions and mobility of researchers; the joint design and operation of research programmes; the creation of world-class European research infrastructures; the transfer of knowledge and cooperation between public research and industry and international cooperation in science and technology.

The Commission is now preparing the launch of a new initiative to create an "Innovation union" as part of the Europe 2020 strategy. This will be discussed on the basis of Commission proposals at an informal European Council in October 2010.