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Homepage Competitive and Sustainable Growth - Making the European Research Area a Reality
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Graphic element Research > Growth > The European Research Area > What is the European Research Area?
Graphic element What is the European Research Area?
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On 18 January 2000, the European Commission adopted the Communication "Towards a European research area" (COM (2000) 6) setting forth a new approach towards scientific and technological activities and calling for a more coherent research policy in Europe. The European Union had already put considerable effort into organising co-operative research between European partners through a series of successive RTD Framework Programmes. The Growth Programme, for example, is provided for under the current Fifth Framework Programme.

While the impact of the Framework Programmes has been highly significant, the Commission's new vision recognises explicitly that the enormous European potential for research will not be realised solely through the provision of funds for co-operative projects. According to Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, what is required is the creation of a true European Research Area. But what exactly does this mean?

The ERA in concrete terms

Ultimately, the establishment of the new ERA will lead to increased coherence and hence a greater impact for European research. The Communication cites seven concrete requirements:

  • A stock of material resources and facilities optimised at the European level;
  • More coherent use of public instruments and resources;
  • More dynamic private investment;
  • A common system of scientific and technical reference for policy implementation;
  • More abundant and more mobile human resources;
  • A dynamic European landscape, open and attractive to researchers and investment;
  • An area of shared values.

One could liken the establishment of the ERA to the restructuring of a large company. The pooling of dispersed resources and expertise allows the undertaking of more important and more rewarding projects. Improved information exchange and co-ordination will help to eliminate redundancy, increasing efficiency and confidence.

New methods and priorities

More recently, the Communication entitled "Making a reality of The European Research Area: Guidelines for EU research activities" (COM (2000) 612) has proposed the following as areas for increased activity:

  • Networking of national research programmes and EU participation in co-ordinated programmes;
  • Creation of European networks of excellence, combining existing capacities into "joint programmes of activity";
  • Large targeted research projects conducted by consortias of companies, universities and research centres with comprehensive financing;
  • Greater regional and national backing for innovation and research among SMEs;
  • More diversified action in support of research infrastructures of European interest;
  • Increase in and diversification of mobility grants for both EU and non-EU researchers. Other measures include the "Women and Science" Action Plan;
  • Action to strengthen the social dimension of science, including in matters concerning ethics, public awareness, and getting young people interested in science.

Increasing activity in these areas will require new management methods and simplified procedures for dealing with larger projects.

New priorities for future research were also set out, including:

  • 'Post-genome' research and research into major illnesses;
  • Nanotechnologies;
  • Information society and the e-Europe initiative;
  • Aeronautics and space;
  • Research supporting European policymaking in areas characterised by uncertainty and risk;
  • Sustainable development.

A long-standing goal

The ERA is not a new concept. The implementation of the Fifth Framework Programme already marked a turning point with its widening of support for European research. EC-funded actions like the Growth Programme and its predecessors have been involved for over ten years in such European co-ordination, paving the way for a European industrial research area and making for a stronger, more rational and more profitable Europe.

Indeed, this web site is, in part, meant to illustrate how the Growth Programme has sought to advance the ERA cause through stimulation of industrial networking, linking up of infrastructure activities, creation of virtual institutes and benchmarking of research results.

Openness is the key

Underlying all of this are the concepts of sharing and exchange. Clearly, European researchers must learn to stop thinking of themselves as living and working separately in individual states and to be more open and communicative about the results of their work. We are all Europeans, living and working in Europe, with all that Europe has to offer in terms of resources, expertise and human imagination.

Thus, according to Commissioner Busquin, the European Research Area will not be created by a single decision. Rather, it will be the result of a process, a way of thinking, to which all relevant actors will contribute. Communication is a crucial factor. All those who are involved in or concerned about the future of European research must be ready and able to make their voices heard.

Building a European Research Area then is not unlike building Europe itself. It means getting to know and to trust each other, finding commonalities while appreciating our differences, and then putting it all together in a strong, united and economically powerful package that will send chills through our American and Japanese competitors.

As this invitation to a new openness and exchange of ideas applies not only to EU institutions and large research and industrial entities, but also to individual researchers and interested citizens, resources like the Growth Programme web site aim to contribute to the increasing accessibility and transparency of European research results.

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