Science is an increasingly international endeavour, in terms of scale and in the need to address global research challenges. Consequently, a growing number of national research facilities are being replaced by more advanced, technologically complex international facilities. National governments aim to develop their own countries into attractive locations for science and innovation, offering excellent R&D facilities and skilled people. They want to ensure that their scientists have access to world-class resources, at home and abroad.
Policy-makers and researchers, together with potential investors and industry, are the main actors where RIs are concerned.
In the past, the EU's work on RIs had been mainly confined to support for transnational access to infrastructures and to research projects helping to raise their performance. Many of the RIs were built with national or inter-governmental funding.
The evolution of major collaborative arrangements across national borders has been gathering pace since the 1950s. These have mainly centred on particular infrastructural facilities or on European laboratories, such as CERN, ESRF, ILL, EMBL, ESA and ECMWF, among others.
Bilateral and multilateral links between the main national research organisations (including CNRS and CEA in France, CSIC in Spain, CNR in Italy, the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Germany, the Research Councils in the UK, TNO in The Netherlands, FNRS in Belgium, TEKES in Finland) have been strengthened in recent years. These are further developing, in particular through the creation of Associated European Laboratories: laboratories ‘without walls’ which combine teams of researchers from several different countries.
Today, strong and coherent international cooperation with third countries is also essential, in order for Europe to become more competitive and play a leading role in the global R&D and innovation sphere. Through strategic partnerships with third countries in scientific fields of mutual interest, the EU engages the best scientists worldwide to work with and within Europe. The EU cooperates above all with EU candidate countries, neighbouring states, developing countries and emerging states.
Thus, the development and optimal use of high quality and performance RIs in Europe, which respond to the needs expressed by the research community, is becoming extremely important at European level. The ultimate decision will always rest in the hands of the decision-making bodies, advised by policy-makers and representatives of the scientific community.