Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003
A European research council (ERC) is imperative for the development of a robust pan European research base, concludes a recent report by the European Science Foundation (ESF).
The report is based of the findings of a high level working group (HLWG), set up to advance the debate on what an ERC could and should be expected to deliver. It specifically addresses issues related to the need for an ERC, the scope of its remit and basic principles, its mode of operation, institutional development, and its funding sources and principal funding mechanisms.
The report suggests that the financing of the ERC's activities will come from national and possibly private sources. However, it is the EU that is expected to be the biggest financial contributor. The report notes that certain research components and subsequent financial resources could be shifted from the existing Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the ERC.
Commenting on the report, ESF Secretary General Enric Banda welcomed its conclusions but noted that much remains to be done in terms of the details of the structure, funding and mode of operation. 'A European research council responsible for funding the highest quality 'researcher initiated' science is essential for the future development of Europe. I very much hope and urge that, based on the report, decision makers will take the opportunity to move ahead quickly in the establishment of such a body.'
With regard to the role of an ERC in Europe, the report recommends that the council should be regarded as being the cornerstone for the European Research Area (ERA) and the main route to developing a locus for basic research in Europe.
In practical terms, the ERC mission would be to bring a European context to the support of long term fundamental research. According to the report, this could be achieved using incentives for initiating new areas of innovative science and scholarship, offering funding opportunities and career structures for young postdoctorals, and establishing leading edge collaborative interdisciplinary centres while providing a focus for European participation in global programmes.
In response to fears that the ERC may be duplicating or competing with existing national or European funding structures, the report makes it clear that it wishes to address areas of activity, such as fundamental science, that are not being adequately covered by existing funding structures at national or European level. In doing so, the ERC would provide a second pillar of European science that would strengthen and support bottom up and long term endeavours.
The report predicts that involvement in such activities would enable the ERC to provide advice on research policy, thus helping to address the problems such as overlapping, fragmentation and isolation of research effort; possible wastage of funds in supporting research of questionable potential and constraints on research mobility.
With regard to the urgent need to establish an ERC, the report recommends making use of an already legally constituted body with the appropriate culture, characteristics and stakeholders, such as ESF. If this recommendation is to be accepted, a complete reappraisal of the role and mode of operation of ESF would be necessary, the report states.
This approach is favoured by Mr Banda. 'The ESF, which brings together most of Europe's research councils and national research organisations, is particularly well placed to contribute to the European research council project. It is both willing and able to evolve and change rapidly and to participate in this endeavour.'
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