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ERC: a victim of ‘red tape’?

Professor Helga Nowotny, the newly appointed President of the European Research Council (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe February 2010 edition), has warned that the work of the fledgling organisation is hampered by bureaucracy. Addressing a European Parliament Committee in early April, she maintained that the ERC’s set-up was seriously wrong. Nowotny expressed concern that scientific objectives might lose out to administrative rationales and underlined that a culture of control must be replaced by one based on trust.  But she also claimed that the ERC was a success story, which had been very positively received by the scientific community.

The ERC was created in 2007 to support researchers and raise scientific standards across Europe. It is funded from the 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7) and has a budget of EUR 7.5 billion for the period from 2007 to 2013.  In technical terms, the ERC is an ‘executive agency’, a semi-autonomous type of body controlled by the European Commission. In theory, this executive agency is only the implementation arm of the ERCs ‘scientific council’, which is to set scientific policy and make sure the ERC acts in the true interest of the scientific community. However, the executive agency and the European Commission are subject to a complex and cumbersome set of EU rules, especially in the guise of financial regulations, the application of which appears to undermine the policy-setting role of the scientific council and the independence of the ERC as a whole.