E.U. Commissioner Seeks ‘Clean Break’ From Past Research Funding Strategy

LONDON—“Get focused and get united to get ahead.” Pinching words from U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European research, innovation and science commissioner, yesterday at the Royal Society laid out her vision for the future of European science and technology. Her words came 2 days before the European Commission presents a green paper on future European Union funding for research and innovation and much of Geoghegan-Quinn’s speech hinted at potentially radical changes ahead for the scientific community.

She reiterated her desire to simplify the E.U. bureaucracy facing researchers, but she also called for a “clean break” from the massive Framework Programmes (FP) that provide funding for multinational science collaborations. “We have now had seven Framework Programmes, but that does not mean that we should automatically move to Framework Programme number eight,” she said. Instead, Geoghegan-Quinn’s proposed a new funding device—dubbed the Common Strategic Framework, although there are plans to rename it something catchier—that would combine into one pot all FP funds and other money devoted to European Union research.

As part of this new framework, countries will receive additional funding to invest in their research infrastructure. Geoghegan-Quinn hopes that this additional funding will chiefly help the 10 newest countries to join the European Union, which have complained that despite access to European research funds, their lack of modern science facilities leaves them unable to keep domestic, or attract foreign, scientists.

The commissioner said that the new framework will also enable funding with the “scale and scope” to tackle the major challenges that European society will face in the coming years: energy, health and aging, food, and climate change and the environment. As part of this, Geoghegan-Quinn introduced plans for a new “Innovation Partnership,” that will focus on healthy aging and aim to add two active years to the lives of Europeans. It is hoped that this can be achieved through combining the efforts of researchers, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and transport industries. Other innovation partnerships will be detailed down the road.

Geoghegan-Quinn’s speech here comes just a few days after the heads of state of the European Union dedicated an afternoon of one of their regular summits to discussing innovation, the main theme of the commissioner’s tenure so far. On 4 February in Brussels, the E.U. leaders pledged to finish establishing the “European Research Area” by 2014. That includes making it easier for researchers to move from one member country to the next-while keeping their pension benefits, for example. The summit also endorsed the idea of establishing E.U.-wide intellectual property rules and agreed to explore the possibility of an E.U.-wide venture capital fund.

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