Putting the pieces of Europe's research jigsaw into a cohesive picture of shared goals and pooled resources is a job for the European Commission's ERA-NET scheme. It coordinates a wide range of research activities spanning Europe, from networks in water management, air transport and marine science to strategy building in the space observation sector. These activities are described in a recent EU publication.
Designed to support the European Research Area (ERA), the ERA-NET scheme was set up to encourage closer and more long-term links between national and regional research programmes which share similar goals. The scheme supports practical initiatives to help coordinate Europe-wide programmes in all areas of research, and pool human and financial resources.
|ERA-NET: putting Europe's research jigsaw pieces into place.|
© European Commission
According to the new publication, called ‘Networking of national research programmes in the European Research Area – Series IV', ERA-NET is a highly innovative component of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The scheme's participants, we learn, are programme managers working in national ministries and funding agencies, rather than universities or enterprises. It seeks to overcome several challenges facing European science programmes.
“Many cultural, political and administrative barriers stand in the way of the coordination of national research programmes,” notes the Commission-produced brochure. These programmes also face funding shortages and struggle to deliver results due to a lack of ‘critical mass' or their limited resources potentially wasted on research being duplicated elsewhere in Europe.
Sharing knowledge, pooling resources
“Water is the key to life and the European Union recognises this through its Water Framework Directive,” notes a fact sheet in the publication which describes an ERA-NET project aimed at improving knowledge transfer among stakeholders in charge of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM.NET). The 17 partners from 14 countries (plus observers) are developing a tool and coordinated actions to share best practice and to “work on synergies between research needs and policy”.
Another ERA-NET project, called Maritime Technologies (MARTEC), aims to create an environment where, according to the publication, partnerships and co-operation among Europe's “disparate national research programmes can begin to flourish”. MARTEC brings together 11 ministries and organisations in nine countries which fund research in this field. The partners will develop a sustainable strategy to help Europe compete, in particular, with the Far East in maritime R&D.
Peering deeper and deeper into space takes stronger, more accurate and more expensive equipment – infrastructure which is increasingly difficult for any one European country to build and maintain. The EU's ASTRONET project understands that coordinating European astronomy is crucial to safeguard its leadership in the field. For this, agreement on a “common science vision and then on a roadmap of infrastructure for the next ten to 20 years” is needed.
In between the seas and space is the sky, an area of growing interest and concern to European transport researchers as more and more aircraft enter into operation. A recently launched ERA-NET (see Headline 27 March 2006), called Air Transport Net (AirTN), is coordinating Europe-wide aeronautics research, with special emphasis on involving new EU Member States, offering important opportunities for industrial development in this sector.