Strategic orientations for the renewed European Research Area

Key Messages

Europe’s commitment to jobs, sustainable growth and improving the living and working conditions of its people has been embodied in the European Semester and the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy8 8. 2020 European Semester: Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, December 2019
. This has been a vital framework enabling Member States to learn from each other across a range of policy areas, including those related to research and innovation. The inclusion of the target of 3% of GDP being invested in Research & Development (R&D) has set a clear direction for all Member States9 9. Presidency conclusions of the Brussels European Council, 22 and 23 March 2005
and has facilitated the intervention of the European Structural and Investment Funds in this field. ESFRI believes that future frameworks should continue this model within the current strategic priorities of the EU.

In a similar way, the ERA is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall European research and innovation ecosystem. A renewed ERA is expected to exploit the significant contribution that R&I plays in achieving Europe’s wider policy objectives and to make ERA more responsive to society. Sustained political ownership and continuous commitment at all levels is needed for progress towards a fully functioning ERA. While stressing the need for coherence between European and national levels in R&I priorities and objectives, this also presupposes acknowledging and taking advantage of the value of diversity among MS/AC as demonstrated successfully by ESFRI in the field of RIs.

The outreach of RIs to other European agendas and policies is therefore decisive. RIs, whether pan-European, national or regional are crucial for European research and are pivotal for the sustainable development of the ERA. Investment in Research Infrastructures is directed by the needs of science and shared policy priorities, but at the same time, advanced infrastructures create the basis for the development of science itself. Investment in RIs is therefore always a cornerstone of research strategies. Furthermore, the existence of unique cutting-edge scientific facilities is an important element in attracting the best researchers from all over the world to do their research in Europe, and helps to anchor European science in global research efforts; thus incentivising countries to become associated to the Research and Innovation Framework Programmes.

RI investments are a strategic investment in enriching Europe’s capacity to support innovation, technological advances and global competitiveness to achieve long-term sustainability of European quality of life and create solutions to global challenges.

The European RI ecosystem is facing new challenges that need to be reflected in revised strategic orientations. The demands for Research Infrastructure are increasing rapidly within most research fields. Technical progress and ever more complex scientific questions are simultaneously driving this development forward. This applies not least within environment and climate research, humanities, social sciences and major parts of medical research. Advancing fundamental knowledge about our universe, the characterisation of materials, the function of cells and characteristics of matter demand ever more sophisticated instrumentation. Complex questions also require data and observations from several sources to be combined and a common feature in all areas of scientific research is the growing need to store, transfer and analyse large amounts of data. In many cases, this evolution means that barriers between research disciplines are breaking down and that the need for international collaboration is increasing - perhaps best reflected in the objectives of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).

To meet this development and enable RIs to be real actors of policy change, Europe needs clearer prioritisation, better coordination, and more efficient use of European Research Infrastructures. As such, structural investment in RIs is required to meet both new scientific needs and to contribute to the global challenges that we face.