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Theme of this issue

The idea of a European Research Area (ERA) grew out of the realisation that research in Europe suffers from three weaknesses: insufficient funding, lack of an environment to stimulate research and exploit results, and the fragmented nature of activities and the dispersal of resources.

In 2000, the EU decided to create the European Research Area. The objective of this initiative combined three related and complementary concepts:

  • the creation of an "internal market" in research, an area of free movement of knowledge, researchers and technology, with the aim of increasing cooperation, stimulating competition and achieving a better allocation of resources;
  • a restructuring of the European research fabric, in particular by improved coordination of national research activities and policies, which account for most of the research carried out and financed in Europe;
  • the development of a European research policy which not only addresses the funding of research activities, but also takes account of all relevant aspects of other EU and national policies.

Such an ERA should inspire the best talents to enter research careers in Europe, incite industry to invest more in European research - contributing to the EU objective to devote 3% of GDP for research, and strongly contribute to the creation of sustainable growth and jobs. Seven years on, the creation of ERA has become a central pillar of the EU 'Lisbon Strategy' for growth and jobs, together with the completion of the Single Market, the European 'broad-based innovation strategy' and the creation of a European Higher Education Area.

Many initiatives have been taken by the EU and Member States. But there are still strong national and institutional barriers which prevent ERA from becoming a reality. For this reason, The European Commission has published a Green Paper on ERA reviewing progress made, where it still needs to be made and raising questions for debate. These questions are developed in an on-line consultation.

Above all, ERA is the backbone of the '5th freedom', covering free movement for researchers, and the free circulation of knowledge, including access to data and availability of open access publications. The aim of ERA is to ensure a coherent and integrated strategy capable of providing European researchers with relevant and effective resources to accomplish the '5th freedom'.

The issues of globalisation, geopolitical challenges, economic performance, health and ageing, cultures and citizenship clearly are domains where Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) can provide support and translate into critical mass capable of producing added value research results. A large spectrum of funding for SSH is available within FP7 including the new "Ideas" programme headed by the European Research Council (ERC), which funds frontier research projects.

Access to the ERA website: