by Giuliana Miglierini
The end of 2023 saw some steps forward to better support the European framework on Research and Innovation (R&I). The Council of Europe approved on 8 December 2023 its conclusions on the impact of research and innovation (R&I) in policymaking. The Council also reached a political agreement on a recommendation of a framework supporting researchers and research careers in the EU. R&I is strategically important as one of the main tools to make Europe more attractive to young talents and to create a open and sustainable European labour market for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs. We summarise the main features of the Council’s decisions.
How to support the European R&I
The Council conclusions were proposed by the Spanish Presidency (Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities), and they represent one of its main priorities in the area of research and innovation.
Three mutually complementary dimensions have been identified as fundamental to the success of European R&I. Science plays an important role to reinforce the political process of decision making, which in turn is key to improve life conditions of EU citizens and strengthen democracy. To this instance, the inclusion of scientific evidence and knowledge in the regulatory process and a better coherence of policy initiatives in different areas are deemed important by the Council. According to the conclusions, such an inclusion should help to improve the response capacity of the EU and member states against both structural and cyclical or circumstantial challenges. The document also recalls the ‘Science for Policy’ concept and the EU’s long-standing tradition of relying on science and evidence-based knowledge in all disciplines to support decision-making.
The availability of strong R&I ecosystems in all member states is deemed fundamental to sustain EU’s competitiveness and should be supported among others by the implementation of open-science policies and new technologies and innovation, including social innovation.
The best available scientific evidence should also always be included in impact assessments, so to improve citizens’ trust in public action, as well as the added value of the legislation. To this instance, a rigorous methodological framework would be needed, even though uncertainties are still possible. Transparent and responsible communication would support a better dissemination of scientific outcomes at all levels. The Council also recommended the mapping of the existing practices of knowledge valorisation in policymaking and the national institutional scientific advisory systems and mechanisms. The Commission should also extend the use of the Technical Support Instrument and the Policy Support Facility to support public policymakers and strengthen public structures for scientific advice.
Local and regional innovation ecosystems and ERA’s R&I
R&I may also represent a boost to enhance cooperation and territorial cohesion, reduce R&I fragmentation and disparities between and within member states and to sustain the creation of regional and local innovation ecosystems. Their design should aim to build synergies between cohesion policy and R&I funds. To this regard, according to the Council the R&I framework programme (i.e. Horizon Europe) should continue to drive research excellence in all member states.
Regional centres of excellence may represent a particularly interesting tool to support the regional dimension, with a special attention to the less innovative ecosystems. This goal is part of the New European Innovation Agenda (NEIA), as well as the Regional Innovation Valleys and the pilot project of the Partnerships for Regional Innovation. Cross-border cooperation (especially between less and more innovative member states and regions) may also be key to support better economic, social, and territorial cohesion and reinforce R&I efficiency.
The third dimension is referred to the policy impact of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) on the design of R&I policies in the European Research Area (ERA) after the pandemic crisis. This last occurrence had a positive effect in enabling many actions at the national level, allowing for targeted investments and reforms. The new ERA should be based on trust, shared responsibilities, and societal engagement and diversity.
Many sectoral and R&I policies experienced a joint approach to their improvement, including the additionality of the Facility with other EU funds. The Council invited the Commission to run a separate study that complements the mid-term evaluation of the RRF, expected by February 2024. The exercise should consider the differences between the RRF and other EU funds.
The reform of research careers
The political agreement reached by the Council on the proposal of a European framework to attract and retain research, innovation and entrepreneurial talents in Europe updates the R1- R4 profiles for researchers, introduced in 2011. It also introduces the European Charter for Re-searchers (ECR), a revision of the 2005 ECR and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers.
The revised definition of researcher and the related research activities are expected to widen career options, thus making European R&I framework more attractive for both internal and foreign talents.
According to the proposal, the term “researcher” would identify professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, active in basic or applied research, experimental development, operating research equipment, or project management within any sector of the economy or society (i.e.academia, business, governmental laboratories and the public administration, and the non-profit sector). Careers in research management are also included in the definition.
Four different profiles have been identified to describe the career steps of researchers. First Stage Researcher (R1) are doing research under supervision up to the point of a PhD or equivalent level of competence and experience. Recognised Researcher (R2) hold a PhD or equivalent level of competence and experience but are not yet fully independent in their ability to develop their own research, attract funding, or lead a research group. R1 and R2 refer to researchers at the beginning of their career in science. R3 and R4 refer to senior researchers. Established Re-searcher (R3) holds a PhD or equivalent level of competence and possesses sufficient experience to independently develop and run their own research. Leading Researcher (R4) are recognised as leading their research field by their peers.
The Council recommends that these profiles are referenced to by members states in all vacancies specifically addressed to researchers. Member states are also called to promote equal esteem and reward of the different paths of research careers, regardless of the sector of employment or activity. Appropriate measuring should support comparison of careers across member states, sectors, and institutions, so enabling their full interoperability. The Council recommendation also aims to reduce the precarity of research labour by promoting adequate social protection measures. Inter-sectoral mobility is also encouraged, as well as better equality in research careers, as a tool to respond to the request of highly skilled talents. The Council expects that all organisations employing or providing funding for researchers would provide endorsement of the new “European Charter for Researchers”.