Research infrastructures look to renew their role in new-look European Research Area

© SCIENCE | BUSINESS // Florin Zubașcu 

Setting up shared European research infrastructures is the key achievement of previous attempts to establish a single European Research Area (ERA), but these large labs are now caught in the cross hairs of European Commission plans to revitalise the single market for research, cuts to the budget, changes in oversight and increased controls over international collaborations.

The question of how research infrastructures fit into ERA remains to be decided by the Commission, which in the thick of setting out the policy agenda, expected to be published this autumn.

“How ESFRI sits in [ERA] depends on the actions that will be defined,” said Jana Kolar, executive director of Central European Research Infrastructure Consortium and chair-elect of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), the body that coordinates strategy for pan-European research labs. “I wish that ESFRI would contribute to as many of the relevant actions as possible,” Kolar told Science|Business.

Kolar would like ESFRI to be “better integrated” in the renewed ERA. “Europe is changing, and we have to identify the gaps with more respect to the policies, and integrate ESFRI research infrastructures in the renewed European Research Area,” she told an ESFRI meeting last month.

To back this up, ESFRI will launch a new roadmap for research infrastructures in December, including proposals for eleven new labs worth a total of €4.16 billion. The 2018 edition of the roadmap was far more modest, with €674 million in total planned investments.

However, member states have since become more adept at accessing EU structural funds to build research infrastructures, and according to ESFRI, the labs are getting increased political backing. In the new roadmap, on average, seven governments gave political support at ministerial level to each project, while institutions from 14 countries will participate in each selected project at the scientific level.

Currently, ESFRI is responsible for coordinating development of 55 research infrastructures, of which 37 have been implemented, across all fields of science, mobilising close to €20 billion. Of these, 21 are designated European Research Infrastructure Consortia (ERIC), a legal form enshrined in EU law – and the only EU regulation in the European Research Area (ERA) framework.

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