by Giuliana Miglierini
The roadmap to support the implementation of the new vision of the European Research Area (ERA) made a concrete step forward on 16 July 2021, with the adoption by the European Commission of the proposal for a Council Recommendation on “A Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe”. The chosen form of a Recommendation supports the final adoption of the Pact in the form of a single non-binding initiative.
The Commission’s proposal was drafted taking into consideration the results from the public consultation ran between 15 April and 13 May 2021, the views generated within the ERA Forum for Transition (set up as an informal Commission expert group), and the out-comings of workshops involving selected stakeholders.
“The pandemic has shown us the importance of uniting research and innovation efforts that swiftly bring results to the market. It has shown us the importance of investment in jointly agreed strategic priorities between Member states and the EU. The Pact for Research and Innovation we propose today, will facilitate better collaboration, and join our efforts to tackle research and innovation objectives that matter the most for Europe. And it will allow all of us to learn from each other”, said Margrethe Vestager, EU Commission’s Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age.
According to Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, “The objective of the Pact is to foster the future dialogue process with key actors putting a clear emphasis on sharing best practices and facilitating the collaboration of Member States to invest in and coordinate on common research and innovation objectives”.
The main features of the document
The goal of the Commission is to update the approach used to manage the European Research Area to the most recent models of R&I and financing of scientific research. The new model for ERA was already described in the “Communication on A New ERA for Research and Innovation” (COM(2020) 628 final) adopted on 30 September 2020.
Integration of national policies instead of a simple collaboration is one of the main points to achieve sharing of key principles and values and to guide joint actions in priority areas. These values and principles are now better detailed in the new Pact for Research and Innovation (R&I), which shall represent the basis for national authorities to reform their internal R&I frameworks in the direction of an improved harmonisation between different member states.
Coordination of efforts at the central and national level should benefit from a Union-level coordination and support mechanism, a common ERA policy agenda of jointly agreed ERA actions to be implemented, a dedicated ERA policy online platform for reporting, and a ERA score- board to monitor progress towards common objectives. Regular bilateral and multilateral policy dialogues between member states and the Commission is expected to favour the sharing of best practices and mutual learning exercises.
The inspiring values
Three different dimensions characterise the declination of the principles and values called to inspire future R&I activities. The “upholding values” include ethics and integrity of research and innovation, freedom of scientific research, gender equality and equal opportunities.
“Working better” values target the free circulation of researchers, excellence and value creation as a tool to support European excellence in science generation, together with early sharing of scientific knowledge through open science practices, attractive and merit-based careers, enhanced framework conditions for mobility and exchanges between academia and industry, and open access to research infrastructures, technology infrastructures and their services. The common goal of all these actions refers to the achievement of the highest quality of R&I activities, to be supported by new models of selection and funding; re-use of previous results should be also pursued during research management activities.
The “working together” dimension is based on the key principles of coordination, coherence, and commitment. Member states are called to coordinate their R&I policies and programmes in areas of common interest and to direct research and innovation investments and reforms to- wards achieving the ERA and speed up the green and digital transition. Global outreach should base on collaboration with partners from third countries and regions, while inclusiveness should support the exploitation of ERA’s full potential to compete at the global level. Furthermore, societal responsibility should aim to increase public trust in science and innovation.
Synergies of action
The Pact for R&I is expected to act in synergy with many other pieces of European legislation to achieve its goals. Challenge-based ERA actions should support the increased integration of the Commission and member states, including their regions, cities, and municipalities. The operative tools may be represented for example by collaborative projects to be run as a part of Horizon Europe Missions, European partnerships including EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities (EIT KICs), joint programming initiatives or multilateral alliance. Inspiration can be obtained also from existing coordination initiatives, such as the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) or the ERAvsCorona initiative.
Integration with the EU Skills Agenda is also important to ensure the alignment of R&I with higher education, and synergies are expected between ERA and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Not less important are possible synergies with the EU’s Industrial Strategy, for example in the field of technology infrastructures, industrial Alliances, and common industrial technology roadmaps. A more active citizen and societal engagement in R&I is another target of the Pact.
At the financial level, the EU Commission looks at improved synergies between EU’s, national and regional funding programmes, with attention to favour the excellence-based integration of research-performing organisations from countries with lower R&I performance into EU’s scientific networks and innovation ecosystems.
The proposal adopted by the Commission provides insights on the expected level of investments in R&D: the total expenditure on research and development should reach the 3% target of EU GDP by 2030, with a total public effort on R&D up to 1.25% of EU GDP. The share of national public R&D expenditure committed to joint programmes, research infrastructures and European Partnerships should also reach 5% of national public R&D funding by the same year.
Voluntary targets for investments
A possible weak point in the vision of the Commission for the future of ERA may be represented by the voluntary adhesion member states are called to with respect to the expected level of expenditure on R&I activities. According to Science Business, the 3% target was achieved in 2019 only by Germany, Sweden, and Austria, while the EU average (2.2%) is below that of US, Japan, and Korea.
Critics to the current EU’s “boom and bust” approach to basic research funding came by the outgoing president of the European Research Council (ERC), Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, during a meeting of EU science ministers in Slovenia in July (see Science Business).
According to Bourguignon, basic R&D should be not necessarily targeted towards topics which represents the priority of action of the EU Commission, such as the green and digital agenda. Sufficient funding for bottom-up research should be always available in order to support curiosity-driven research.