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Towards establishing a European Action Plan for ensuring the sustainability of research infrastructures: Call for Action Report

The European Commission has recently published the ‘Call For Action Report’ which aims to set the basis for a discussion with Member States and stakeholders on the measures to be taken at all levels in Europe to address RI sustainability in medium and long-term. This Action Plan will trigger and structure the debate with RI funders, users and operators, in order to arrive at a sound basis to work for a sustainable European RI and will consequently contribute to the discussions of the next Framework Programmes and future ESI Funds.

ESFRI has been successful in developing a medium to long-term vision on the needs of the European scientific communities, which led to the consolidation of a roadmapping process3 at European level. In addition, the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) Regulation has also significantly contributed to the structuring of the European RI ecosystem. At the same time, the European Commission is opening its unique RI for access to external users, as part of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) Strategy 20304 "Infrastructure fit for purpose", that states that the JRC major RIs will be operated according to the ESFRI criteria, and wherever possible and appropriate, integrated into the ESFRI roadmap.

However, putting into place and maintaining such a landscape of excellent RI serving the needs of the scientific communities and other stakeholders has a price. The consultations that were carried out to stakeholders have highlighted the fact that the question of the sustainability of RI goes well beyond funding only, touching upon several dimensions such as scientific excellence, socio-economic impact or innovation, which contribute as a whole to the overall sustainability objective. All these pre-conditions need to be addressed at European level over the entire RI life cycle - from initial planning up to termination. The present Staff Working Document, is a compendium of the outcomes of these consultations

Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General DG Research and Innovation (then), in his foreword:

‘Long-term sustainability of Research Infrastructures was flagged as a key policy priority at the Informal Competitiveness Council of July 2014. It was recognised that implementing the ESFRI infrastructures, is critical for the EU to remain at the forefront of science and technology and to stay competitive in the global knowledge-based economy. However, putting in place and maintaining such a European landscape of excellent Research and Infrastructures has a significant impact on both national and European science budgets, hence raising the question of their long-term sustainability. This called for a European debate to discuss the related complex and multi-level sustainability challenges, to explore ways of combining funds of different sources more efficiently and ultimately defining Europe's goals for the next generation Research Infrastructures. This Staff Working Document follows the May 2016 Competitiveness Council Conclusions inviting the European Commission to develop a long-term sustainability Action Plan, in close cooperation with ESFRI and other relevant stakeholders. This document is the result of a stakeholder consultation process that identified the main elements for an Action Plan and specific measures to be adopted by the different actors.’ 

The Report will be presented during the ‘Research Infrastructures beyond 2020’ Conference in Sofia (23rd March, 11:30 – 13:00, Session 5: European Call for Action on Long-term sustainability of RIs)