On 17th July the European Commission's published a Policy Communication on the European Research Area (ERA). This document introduces a new official definition for the ERA as a unified research area open to the world based on the Internal Market, in which researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely and through which the Union and its Member States strengthen their scientific and technological bases, their competitiveness and their capacity to collectively address grand challenges. The new ERA policy should lead to a substantial progress in the European research efficiency and effectiveness and will focus on five key priorities:
• More effective national research systems
• Optimal transnational co-operation and competition
• An open labour market for researchers
• Gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research
• Optimal circulation and transfer of scientific knowledge
The new ERA document will try to pragmatically strengthen an ERA partnership between the EC, Member States and research stakeholder organisations by proposing a set of measures that will ensure the completion of the ERA by 2014. This new and important role is given to research stakeholder organisations, i.e., federative and representative bodies of public and private research actors (including researchers, universities, funding and performing organisations) and their members. Some of the relevant research stakeholders identified by the EC are the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO), the European University Association (EUA), the League of European Research Universities (LERU), Nordforsk, Science Europe (SE). They signed with the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn a Joint Statement to work towards completing ERA.
There are good news for any RI or e-Infrastructure who are planning to apply for ERIC status. The EC believes that investments in RIs are required beyond the means of individual countries - pooling of regional, national and European Union funds, particularly for ERIC RIs, including distributed facilities requiring the participation of as many countries as possible with world class national and regional capacity. Following this, the EC commits to support the access to RIs through Horizon 2020 as well as the on-going overall integration of EU RIs particularly those awarded the ERIC status.
In addition, the EC is committed to the following set of measures related to ESFRI and e-IRG:
• Encourage Member States to link RI roadmaps to the ESFRI roadmap and smart specialisation strategies in Structural Funds co-financed research and innovation programmes, reinforcing the capacity of less favored regions to host and participate in RIs of pan-European and international interest
• Develop a Charter of Access setting out common standards and harmonized access rules and conditions for the use of RIs in cooperation with ESFRI, e-IRG and other stakeholders
• Define common evaluation principles, impact-assessment criteria and monitoring tools which can be applied in regional, national and European programmes to help combine funds from different sources in collaboration with ESFRI, e-IRG and other stakeholders
• Work with e-IRG to promote the alignment of EU and national approaches to eRI development and use
Since most scientific knowledge creation, circulation, access and transfer use digital means, all barriers preventing seamless online access to digital research services for collaboration, computing and accessing scientific information (e-Science) and to e-infrastructures must be removed in order to achieve a digital ERA. The Commission is committed to establish open access to scientific publications as a general principle for all EU funded projects in Horizon 2020 and propose a roadmap for e-infrastructure development to support e-Science through open access to research tools and resources.
The Commission plans to develop a robust ERA monitoring mechanism (EMM) and as the result of monitoring the first annual ERA progress report will be published in 2013.
To conclude, message of the ERA Communication is that excellent research depends upon world-class facilities and research infrastructures (RIs), including ICT-based e-infrastructures (eRIs). E-Infrastructures in particular enable increasingly prevalent data-intensive collaborative research by geographically dispersed teams – e-Science.