Jean-Claude Juncker is nine months into the role of European Commission president: the duration of a pregnancy. Has his Commission delivered in the field of research and innovation, bearing in mind that this was not named as one of his 10 policy priorities in November? And what can we expect for the next four years?
Research had an unexpectedly bumpy start in the Juncker Commission. The departure of Anne Glover in November and the plundering of the Horizon 2020 budget by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (Efsi) this spring triggered two wars between the Commission and Europe’s academics.
An R&D facelift
The dust has more or less settled on both conflicts, at least for the moment. The research commissioner Carlos Moedas has put forward a Science Advice Mechanism as a way to give EU policy development a scientific basis; we now await the selection of the magnificent seven whose role will be to give the Commission’s science advice credibility and success.
Moedas, together with vice-presidents Jyrki Katainen and Kristalina Georgieva, was able to safeguard the European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Sklodowska-Curie budgets from Efsi’s raid on Horizon 2020.
At the same time, Efsi emerged from negotiations with a research and innovation facelift; we can be hopeful that the fund will ultimately benefit these areas, and that the loss of €2.2 billion from Horizon 2020 will therefore not have been in vain.
Smits on board
The Commission handled the European Citizens’ Initiative Stop Vivisection well, stating that the directive protecting animals used for scientific purposes would remain a crucial EU policy instrument. Moedas has also renewed the European Research Area engagements between the Commission and organisations including the League of European Research Universities (Leru), and has increased the pressure on member states by demanding national ERA roadmaps by mid-2016.
Finally, and reassuringly, Moedas has kept Robert-Jan Smits on board as director-general of the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. All in all, it’s been a difficult start but progress has been made.
However, the coming months will bring many challenges, old and new. On Horizon 2020, seven problems stand out.
-First, it remains underfunded, with a political struggle taking place over annual budget allocations
-second, unless the low success rates for applications are remedied, the best researchers will not apply
-third, efforts at simplification must be maintained and extended
-fourth, the autonomy of the ERC within Horizon 2020 must be increased to guarantee its continued success
-fifth, continued, sufficient and reliable support for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the Knowledge and Innovation Communities is necessary, especially as more KICs are launched
-sixth, budget lines on Teaming and Twinning must be reinforced to support regions where research is less developed
-and seventh, Horizon 2020 must retain its exclusive focus on supporting excellence, and not become an instrument for promoting cohesion policies.
Moedas’s openness agenda – open innovation, open science and open to the world – will have Leru’s full attention and support. On open innovation, we look forward to discussing regulatory reforms and policy proposals for stimulating innovation, such as a Seal of Excellence for individual applicants, a European Fund of Funds and a European Innovation Council.
For the open-science part, we are keen to be involved in a proposed cloud-computing project for science and an initiative on research integrity. And on being open to the world, we fully support greater engagement in science diplomacy and global scientific collaboration, as we are already doing through the building of the Global Council of Research-Intensive Universities.
The agendas of the EU presidencies will also play an important role. Luxembourg, which holds the presidency for the second half of 2015, has prioritised gender equality and research integrity. Universities must take the lead on both issues; the Commission’s aim should be to stimulate and facilitate, without overregulating or imposing sanctions.
Crucial Dutch presidency
For its presidency in the first half of 2016, the Netherlands has already said that it will prioritise open-access publishing and open science. The creation of a level playing field for open-access publishing, research data management and personal data protection across the EU is absolutely crucial.
On top of that, we need a forward-looking revision of EU copyright law, including a mandatory exception for text and data mining, for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, that cannot be overridden by private contracts.
Clearly, there are many struggles ahead, but if problems are tackled in a positive and constructive way, there will also be a lot of progress.
Kurt Deketelaere is the secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities and a professor of law at the University of Leuven, Belgium.
This article also appeared in Research Europe
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