EU Commission Supports Freedom of Science and Innovation
Commissioners Jan Figel and Janez Poto�?nik assure that both the future European Institute of Technology and the European Research Council will be scientifically free and independent from political influence. Background: Part of the relaunched Lisbon agenda, the European Institute of Technology (EIT) is set to be an important step towards filling the existing gap between higher education, research and innovation, thus transferring knowledge to industry and market applications. Part of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), the European Research Council (ERC) is set to support ground-breaking, investigator-driven basic research. Issues: European Research Council (ERC) and the European Institute of Technology (EIT) are meant to be complementary. The first supporting frontier research and new ground-breaking discoveries, the second applied research and transfer of knowledge to innovative market applications. In separate events, two Commissioners emphasised, on 25 April 2006, the need for the scientific freedom of these bodies. Speaking at the London School of Economics, the Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Poto�?nik, addressed the importance of the future European Research Council (ERC), giving his full support for its scientific freedom. "At the heart of the ERC concept is the recognition that practicing researchers are best placed to identify those exciting new opportunities and directions at the forefront of knowledge that will lead into the industries, markets, and broader social innovations of the future," said Poto�?nik. The Commissioner sees that the EU as a whole has problems in supporting new, emerging research fields, such as biotechnology or nanosciences, in managing their growth and assuring high research quality. "These problems suggest a mismatch between the institutional set-up for research in most European countries and the requirements of new leading sciences. Existing research funding mechanisms tend to support more established disciplines where the division between basic and applied research is more pronounced," he continued. Addressing the European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee, the Commissioner for Education, Culture and Languages, Jan Figel expressed his views on the future European Institute of Technology (EIT). "The EIT governing board will consist of independent experts free from member states and the Commission," he assured. Positions: The MEPs members of the Culture Committee voiced concerns about the intellectual fragmentation the EIT might bring among the European universities. They also questioned the funding of the future institution, fearing that the EIT would be built with FP7 money, at the expense of the European Research Council. Acknowledging that an EIT is a good idea, some MEPs however thought that it would be better to support existing institutions of excellence. The European universities have expressed their reluctance to the establishment of an EIT. The results of the stakeholder consultation on EIT were published in March 2006. As to the status of the ERC, scientists wish to see its establishment as an independent body, completely separate from the Commission, in order to assure that political criteria do not determine scientific priorities. Some member states also support an independent ERC, separate from the Commission, whereas some in the Commission fear this could lead to ignoring scientific excellence and distributing grants according to national contributions to the ERC budget. Latest & next steps: The ERC governing body has already been established and it has held its first meetings in order for the ERC to be operational right from the start of the FP7. A detailed Commission proposal on the EIT is expected in June 2006. The EIT's first 'knowledge communities' are expected to be in place by 2009-2010.