"Towards a European research area"

European Commissioner Philippe Busquin invited the Academia, along with other European organisations, to comment on his proposals for a "European Research Area". Following a debate in the Council in March 2000, a working group was set up to finalise the Academia's response, which was presented to M. Busquin by the President at a meeting in April.

A full copy of the Academia's reply is available on request to the office. Some of the main points are set out below.

  1. The Academia supports the Commission's emphasis on the importance of research, pure and applied, as the basis of future economic success and quality of life. We also agree that European research is too fragmented, failing to take advantage of scale or recognising that the pressure from the research community is for increased international collaboration. Europe should have an overall research policy which is not merely an amalgamation of national policies.

  2. Whilst taking this positive position, we are also aware of strong criticisms by the research community of the existing programmes and the way in which they operate. Programmes are perceived as being too 'top-down', too directive and showing insufficient flexibility.

  3. EU research programmes include strongly applied research, some research related to the statutory needs of the European Commission, and fundamental research. A single approach to the decision-making about these programmes is not appropriate, and alternative non-politicised mechanisms are desirable, especially in relation to fundamental research. This would help to reassure the high percentage of researchers who have become disillusioned with existing mechanisms.

  4. The concept of a European Research Area must always keep in mind a greater Europe than the 15 member states plus the current candidate countries. Whilst recognising funding realities, research programmes should wherever possible include other European countries.

  5. To create a truly integrated European research area it is necessary that the higher education systems in the various countries move towards greater harmonisation. This requires a lot of work at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

  6. The concept of "centres of excellence" must be handled with very great sensitivity. Scientific excellence is recognised by the scientific community, not awarded by a selection process or competition. A task of higher priority is to produce conditions in Europe that would enable every research centre to function optimally, rather than divide the research community into various classes of excellence. It should be recognised that the quality of any centre may change with time.

    The concept of a "centre of excellence" should not be translated into a "large research centre". Many excellent centres, particularly in the Life Sciences, are quite small. A virtual centre connecting smaller groups by electronic means may in many cases lead to a more flexible and efficient structure.

  7. We place a particular stress on the acquisition of the necessary linguistic skills in the academic and research communities.