The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research is charged with the task of developing integrated and world-class research in Europe. Its policies and initiatives are dedicated to strengthening Europe’s scientific and technological bases, and complement Member States’ efforts to increase investment in research.
In 2009, the European Union was still a long way from reaching its research investment target of 3 % of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010. The 2008 figures, the latest available, put research investment within the EU at 1.9 % of GDP. Private research funding has slowed down as a consequence of the economic crisis. As part of the EU’s economic recovery plan, three so-called public–private partnerships were set up in 2009 to boost R&D investment in the automobile, construction and manufacturing sectors, which were affected by the recent financial turmoil.
Europe’s transition towards a knowledge-based economy — one where knowledge production and transfer drive economic growth and competitiveness — is of paramount importance in the face of global competition from the USA, Japan, and more recently China and India, which invest in high-technology industries and in training highly skilled labour. Creating the European Research Area — a European internal market for research to enable the free movement of researchers and knowledge, and to promote excellence and research efficiency and effectiveness — is an essential part of the process. The aim is also to reinforce the international dimension of the ERA to attract the participation of the best researchers in the world, and to address challenges which go beyond Europe, such as climate change, energy security and ageing populations.
The main instrument to implement EU research policy and to support the development of the ERA is the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7) established under the EU and Euratom Treaties to run from 2007 to 2013 and 2011 respectively. FP7 is divided into five specific programmes covering 22 topics. Two agencies created to implement parts of FP7, the European Research Council Executive Agency (ERCEA) and the Research Executive Agency (REA), became fully operational in 2009. As one of the ERA’s major instruments, FP7 is monitored every year to measure the progress of implementation using a set of core indicators.
In its first three years, FP7 received more than 55 000 eligible research proposals in response to 170 concluded calls for proposals. Of these proposals, more than 9 000 were retained for negotiations, which corresponds to an overall success rate of around 22 %. Small and Medium-sized enterprise (SME) participation in FP7 projects represented 16.4% of the number of participants and 13.4% of requested Union funding. FP7 participation is not restricted to EU Member States and associated countries. In 2009, 8.5 % of FP7 applicants were from third countries, the most successful applicants being from the USA, Russia, China, India and Brazil.