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Commission moves to reshape ERA, again

Geoghegan-Quinn claims 2014 deadline is still in reach

The European Commission has launched a public consultation to boost plans for the EU’s single market for research—despite criticism that the exercise will do little more than go over old ground.

Research and innovation commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn says the consultation will seek to “redefine” the European Research Area, three years before the deadline for its completion, and four years after a similar consultation was completed (see below).

Geoghegan-Quinn launched what she termed the “biggest consultation ever” of its kind, Areas of Untapped Potential for the Development of the ERA, in Brussels on 13 September. She likened the creation of the ERA to that of the EU’s single market for goods and services in 1992. “ERA will mean to ideas what the internal market meant for commerce,” she said.

In 2000, the Commission set out to create the ERA by 2014—but progress has been slow. In February this year, the European Council nudged the Commission to rectify this, insisting that “remaining gaps must…be addressed rapidly and the ERA completed by 2014 to create a genuine single market for knowledge, research and innovation”.

Heads of state said efforts should focus on improving the mobility and career prospects of researchers and students. Researchers point out that pension and social security arrangements or national rules on grant relocation continue to affect their free movement between EU member states.

Speaking to the press before the launch, Geoghegan-Quinn said the 2014 deadline was “very strict”, and pledged confidence that it would still be met, arguing that the European Council president Herman Van Rompuy is personally committed to the project. “If we’re running up against barriers he may bring up the subject again with the Council,” she said.

The consultation aims to identify obstacles to mobility and cross-border cooperation, improving what is so far merely “anecdotal evidence”, Geoghegan-Quinn said. “We have an open mind about what the ERA is all about,” she added.

But Peter Tindemans, member of the governing board at the researchers’ organisation Euroscience, says that much of the questionnaire’s material has already been covered in the past. “I’m surprised and slightly confused,” he told Research Europe. “Why do we need all this now, after the Innovation Union initiative [in October 2010] and the consultation on the Common Strategic Framework [this year]? I think we already know what the problems are.”

However Horst Soboll, a former member of the European Research Advisory Board, sounds a more positive note. Public consultations are necessary, if slightly contrived exercises, he says, and “time is always right to push member states a bit further”. The perils of the financial crisis mean research loses importance on the political agenda, so the consultation may bring fresh insights and impetus to a European vision for research, he adds.

The consultation closes on 30 November. Results will be presented early next year, followed by a full proposal for an “ERA framework” by the end of 2012. This is after the Commission submits its proposal for Horizon 2020, the Framework 7 follow-up, in November. But Horizon 2020 will respond to the ERA consultation results, Geoghegan-Quinn said.

The long and winding ERA road

2000 Commission sets out to create the European

Research Area

2002 Commission Communication The ERA: Providing new momentum

2007 Public consultation based on Commission proposal The ERA: New perspectives

2008 Seven ERA expert groups’ reports published

2008 Ministers endorse the 2020 ERA Vision

2009 Report on ERA monitoring and indicators

Feb 2011 EU heads of state insist on 2014 ERA deadline

Sept 2011 Public consultation Areas of Untapped Potential for the Development of ERA launched by Geoghegan-Quinn