Science at the service of Europe

World-class R&D drive smart growth and future prosperity

The task of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Innovation is to drive forward an integrated and world-class research and innovation system in Europe. In achieving this goal, it needs to balance competing priorities, especially in the current difficult economic circumstances.

Public spending constraints in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis mean that available funds have to be used to best effect. The Europe 2020 strategy, adopted in 2010, calls for funds to be targeted at key areas in order to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The research investment target of 3% of gross domestic product (GDP), which had reached 2.01% by the end of 2009, is still at the core of the EU's strategy to boost economic growth and competitiveness, create a European Research Area, and set key framework conditions as identified under the new Innovation Union.

The ERA covers transnational activities, programmes and policies supported by the EU and Member States to enable the free movement of researchers and knowledge, and to promote excellence and research efficiency and effectiveness in Europe. In order to address the challenges which go beyond Europe, such as climate change, energy security and ageing populations, cooperation is encouraged with the world's best researchers. With the Lisbon Treaty in force, the completion of an increasingly competitive ERA has become a main focus of the EU's research policy.

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. It is divided into five specific programmes covering more than 20 topics. Its budget for 2007-2013 is just over €53 billion. Most parts of FP7 are managed by DG Research and Innovation. However, it also covers research topics that are promoted by other Commission services. The Directorates-General Information Society and Media, Enterprise and Industry, Education and Culture, Mobility and Transport, and Energy also manage parts of FP7. The Joint Research Centre, a Commission DG in its own right, directly engages in research under FP7 in a separate programme.

Although most of the FP7 budget is managed by the Commission, the Programme also permits certain parts to be administered either by the European Research Council Executive Agency (ERCEA), the Research Executive Agency (REA) or the Fusion for Energy (F4E) Undertaking. In addition, the EU has set up five Joint Undertakings – Innovative Medicines Initiative, Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, Clean Sky, ARTEMIS and ENIAC – along with four so-called Article 185 Initiatives which also manage their respective parts of the FP7 budget.

DG Research and Innovation (together with the other Commission services involved) draws up and issues annual work programmes for FP7 and subsequently publishes calls for proposals. In 2010, 63 separate calls were concluded under FP7 (43 of them by DG Research and Innovation). Over 12 000 research proposals were received in response to these calls. In 2010, the results of the FP7 interim evaluation were published, presenting a first comprehensive assessment of its key strengths, and outlining areas where it should be improved. According to the evaluation, FP7 clearly contributes to the development of the ERA. Its geographical outreach in cross-border, including international, cooperation and its promotion of research excellence make a big impact on the European research landscape. International cooperation within FP7 was recognised as having great value, and the increasing urgency to find innovative solutions to address global challenges make a thorough analysis of the current international cooperation strategy a priority. The evaluation also called for further simplification of application and management procedures to improve the effectiveness of the FP7 research effort and to meet the research community's needs.

In April 2010, the Commission made a series of proposals for simplifying the implementation of the Research Framework Programmes to the EU Council and the European Parliament. Following an in-depth interinstitutional debate, the Commission adopted short-term simplification measures on three specific issues: the use of average personnel costs, the salary costs of SME owners, and the uniform interpretation and application of FP7 rules and procedures.

Following the endorsement by the European Council of the Europe 2020 strategy in June 2010, the Commission adopted the Innovation Union flagship initiative in October. The Innovation Union proposes 34 commitments for the EU and its Member States to attract more entrepreneurs and investors in research, development and innovation in Europe. Through the Innovation Union, Europe takes an integrated approach to innovation whereby the objectives of increasing competitiveness and addressing societal challenges reinforce each other, while the pursuit of innovation determines policy formulation and implementation in other policy areas.

Attractive research careers and mobility are key components of ERA, as was confirmed by the Competitiveness Council in March 2010. Ministers called for joint action, most particularly between policy approaches in the areas of research and employment and social security. Information provision on researchers' jobs and rights was stepped up through the EURAXESS jobs portal and by more than 200 services centres in 38 countries.

Joint programming involves Member States coordinating their national research activities on specific topics and working together to implement common strategic research agendas based on a shared vision of how to address major societal challenges. A High-Level Group of Ministerial representatives (the 'GPC'), in which the Commission is represented, makes recommendations for possible themes for Joint Programming Initiatives. In this context, Commission Recommendations and related Council Conclusions were adopted in 2010, launching three new Joint Programming Initiatives on 'Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change', 'A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life', and 'Cultural Heritage and Global Change'. Furthermore, in its May 2010 Conclusions, the Council identified six more themes for possible JPIs and, in its November 2010 Conclusions, endorsed Voluntary Guidelines for Framework Conditions for Joint Programming.

By the end of 2010, DG Research and Innovation had prepared the main elements of a Green Paper (a consultation document) proposing major changes in the way EU research and innovation are funded in the future. This document was published by the European Commission in early 2011. The idea is to make it easier to participate in EU research and innovation projects, further increase their scientific and economic impact, and provide even more value for money.