Imprensa Commission launches last-ditch attempt to create single EU market for research (Science|Business)

Notícias | 02-02-2012

Article written by Peter Koekoek, Science|Business

The European Commission proposes to unite national funding agencies in 'pacts' to complete the European Research Area (ERA) by 2014 deadline - without further legislation

Instead of taking her chances with a lengthy legislative procedure in the Council and Parliament, Research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is now pinning her hopes on non-legislative measures to complete Europe's single market for research by the 2014 deadline, and says she will "name and shame" those that do not cooperate.

The Commissioner wants to create "European Research Area Pacts," which would unite national funding agencies and universities. The "joint commitments" are to be signed before the summer - on a voluntary basis.

Geoghegan-Quinn announced her plan to drop any legislative efforts on the topic for the remainder of her term as Commissioner - which ends in 2014 - at a conference in Brussels this week. She also warned that this wouldn't mean the Member States could sit back and relax. "The Commission will carefully measure their progress towards ERA objectives. I intend each year to state very publicly how well, or how badly, each Member State is doing. I will not shy away from naming and shaming," Geoghegan-Quinn said

The Commissioner's spokesman could not confirm to Science|Business when the assessments would be published.

The EU set out to create the single market for research more than a decade ago, and has been struggling to make it happen ever since. At a summit in February last year, national governments gave the initiative a new boost by setting 2014 as deadline for completion of the project.

The idea, first put forward by the Prodi Commission in 2000, is to create a single market for research and ideas, analogous to the single market programmes of the early 1990s that led to single markets for many goods and services and helped forge economic growth throughout that decade.

Retaining Europe's brightest

The European Commission is getting ready to publish its ERA proposals in June. This will detail plans to help realise objectives like promoting more competitive allocation of research funding throughout the EU, getting positions at universities and research institutions filled on merit, allowing researchers to take their grants across borders, and ensuring female researchers have equal opportunities. The completion of ERA is seen as vital to retain Europe's brightest scholars, who might otherwise move to the US or emerging markets in Asia.

Maria da Graca Carvalho, a member of the European People's Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament, told Science|Business she believes a quick implementation of ERA is vital to help Europe get the jobs and growth that the heads of state and government are looking for. "It is not an immediate solution for six months, but more for the medium and long term. But we should start implementing ERA immediately," said Graca Carvalho, a member of Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee. Graca Carvalho made her case at a special meeting of EU research ministers in Copenhagen yesterday (1 February).

At a meeting of ITRE in Brussels last week, Danish research minister Morten Østergaard, told the committee that Horizon 2020, the new €80 billion R&D funding programme proposed by the Commission is, "A key legislative priority" for the Danish EU Presidency. "In these challenging times, the Commission proposal is the right way to strengthen research and innovation in order to create growth and jobs," Østergaard said.

The non-legislative approach

Amongst other requirements, Horizon 2020 gives the Commission the task of drawing up an "ERA Framework," but doesn't describe in great detail what that should entail.

With the Commission opting for a non-legislative approach, the possibility of pulling together a coalition of the willing seems to have been created. But this also potentially enables Member States reluctant to join a single research market to opt out.

Entrenched interests in the Member States - universities, education ministries, research councils - have made creating a single market for research a far more difficult topic than the single market initiatives of the 1990s. Everybody seems to agree there should be more openness, mobility, efficiency and uniformity in the research sector - but each player wants the game to be played by their own rules.

The newly proposed voluntary agreements would not work as a shortcut towards completing Europe's single market for research, Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) told Science|Business. Deketelaere fears it would take a few more decades to complete ERA if the European Union does not lay down a regulatory framework.

Voluntary initiatives not credible basis for ERA

"The four freedoms that already exist; free movements of goods, services, capital and persons have only come into existence because the internal market was legally realised. The illusion that currently appears to exist that the fifth freedom - the free circulation of knowledge - can be created based solely on voluntary initiatives is quite incredible," says Deketelaere. He sees the new voluntary agreements more as a practical intermediate step, when no more is achievable during the remainder of the Commissioner's term.

Geoghegan-Quinn has indicated that proposing legislation might be exactly what she will recommend to the next European Commission, to be installed in 2014, almost 15 years after ERA was first proposed. "This will be a moment of truth. If progress is insufficient, I will not hesitate to recommend to my successor that he or she should make use of the new treaty provisions to propose legislation. As far as I am concerned, the non-legislative approach is in the last chance saloon" she said.

Facts & Figures

Anneli Pauli, the European Commission's deputy director-general of DG Research and Innovation warned last month that the Commission was still having a hard time getting all the necessary facts and figures together that the Member States said were required to warrant specific action.

Many Commission officials joke, for example, that certain Member States have universities where only a few family names circulate, or where all professors come from the same town, 'by chance.' The Commission it seems, is having a hard time gathering enough evidence to convince Member States of the necessity for new EU legislation to promote job mobility for researchers

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