EU: Experts support the creation of a European Research Council


Experts support the creation of a European Research Council
An expert group set up by the European Commission to examine the likely impact of a European Research Council has found that a pan-European mechanism funding frontier research would have a major effect on the level of excellence of research in Europe. In their view, a European Research Council would be arguably the single most important means to remedy Europe’s current weakness in high-quality research and in new, fast-developing research areas. This report comes only a short time after the European Commission’s proposal for such a mechanism as part of its proposals for the 2007-2013 Framework Programme for Research and Development, and supports the approach to this new body taken by the Commission.

The report “Frontier Research: The European Challenge” is the result of the work of a high-level group set up by the Commission, chaired by William C. Harris of the Science Foundation Ireland, and composed of eminent scientists, research managers and economists from Europe and the United States. The group was asked to examine the effects and benefits of creating a new European funding mechanism to support the very best research carried out at the frontiers of knowledge.

The report identifies a series of key challenges facing European research that a European Research Council (ERC) could help address. These include:

* Reinforcing excellence, with a focus on new, fast-growing research areas
* Staying ahead in a world of growing scientific and technological competition
* Linking science to technological innovation
* Competing for talent and attracting the best researchers
* Encouraging greater investment from the private sector

The High Level Group of experts also identified a number of important impacts and benefits above and beyond what can be achieved by national funding mechanisms:

* The ability to recognize, encourage and support the best talent through direct competition at pan-European level
* Selectivity and agility, enabling resources to be focused on excellent research in the most promising areas for the future
* Providing high status and visibility for truly excellent research leaders
* Dynamic structural effects on the European research system by helping national research structures to adapt to the evolving European Research Area
* Economic benefits by nurturing science-based industry and attracting more R&D intensive firms in Europe
* Benefits to society from investing quickly in the knowledge necessary to tackle major issues.

The group also concluded that the potential benefits of the ERC could not be realised by other means. Unless Europe makes a commitment to frontier research, it risks becoming a continent of imitators rather than innovators.

The Commission has proposed the establishment of an ERC within its proposal for the next Framework Programme for Research. An

Identification Committee, composed of independent experts from the world of science and chaired by Lord Patten of Barnes, is currently in the process of identifying possible members of the Governing Council of the ERC, who will be the guarantors of the autonomy and focus on excellence that are fundamental to its success.