Think tank calls for creation of European research body

22 Apr 2005

An expert group appointed by the European Commission and chaired by Dr William Harris, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, has called for the creation of a European Research Council (ERC) to address weaknesses in European investment in pioneering research.

In its report to the commission, the group states that the establishment of an ERC would have a major effect in boosting the quality of European science and in meeting the broader challenges faced by European research.

Harris, who was appointed chairman of the 13-strong group last year, said: “Europe does not perform particularly well in terms of truly outstanding research, nor is it mastering sufficiently quickly the new fast growing fields in which science and technology are often closely interlinked.

“Frontiers Research is at the leading edge of scientific discovery and involves taking risks. For Europe to successfully invest in Frontiers Research it needs a new funding structure and mechanism such as the ERC. The ERC will encourage, facilitate and select the more adventurous research, drawing upon the full continental pool of creative researchers.”

The report, Frontier Research: The European Challenge outlines the role played by a new European-level funding mechanism to support the very best research. The proposed body would govern and administer funds for Frontiers Research as part of the overall budget of the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for research and development.

According to the report, an ERC would provide the pan-European mechanism necessary to encourage and support creative individuals – scientists, engineers and other researchers – who are most likely to make the groundbreaking discoveries that can change the course of human understanding, as well as perhaps helping to solve some of mankind’s most enduring problems.

Welcoming the report, Dr Conor O’Carroll, assistant director, Research Policy for the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities, said the establishment of an ERC would prove beneficial to Irish research as it would be clearly differentiated from and additional to national activities.

“The quality of research conducted in Ireland has never been higher. Much of that is due to the fact that funding for research has grown from €27m in 1997 to €450m last year.

“The establishment of an ERC would result in significant extra funds being made available to Irish researchers. This would be an all-Europe competition and researchers here are well used to the rigours of international competition,” he added.

By Brian Skelly