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European Research Area: Where do we stand? Where do we go?

The European Commission has recently published a report assessing the interim progress towards the 'completion' of the European Research Area (ERA). The ERA Progress Report 2013 presents for the first time an overview of the political context, the steps taken and the first achievements in the 28 EU member states and countries associated with the EU Framework Programme. The progress report is part of the 'ERA monitoring mechanism', put in place by the European Commission to check progress towards the creation of an inter-connected research area across Europe.  Containing a detailed 'facts and figures' annex, the report addresses the key issues that have been identified as lying at the heart of a well-functioning ERA:

  • Effectiveness of national research systems;
  • Transnational cooperation;
  • Research infrastructures;
  • Open labour market for researchers;
  • Gender equality and mainstreaming in research;
  • Optimal circulation and transfer of knowledge (open access to publicly funded research results and digital dimensions of ERA; knowledge transfer and open innovation); and
  • International cooperation.

Although the final assessment of ERA will only be made in 2014, it is quite clear that there is still considerable room for progress on many aspects. Among the reported achievements are more frequent use of competitive research funding and international peer review, a wider use of 'Article 5' and Joint Programming initiatives, progress with ESFRI, advancement of the 'open access' principle for publicly funded research , the upgrade of the ‘Scientific Visa Directive’, the EURAXESS Jobs Portal and other ERA flagships. Yet, readers are left with an impression of mixed progress at best, for example, on the open labour market for researchers. Nearly half of EU researchers are cited as unsatisfied with open recruitment practices at their institutions. Similarly, on the gender equality front, only 15% of heads of institutions are women and less than one fifth of them are among senior academic staff. However, the most disappointing of all is the record low level of public spending on research measured as a share of total government spending in all EU countries which was below 1.5   in 2011. Clearly, much higher commitment and stronger efforts are needed if real progress towards the stated objectives of ERA is to be made by 2014 (i.e. next year!), And if the description of ERA as the 'single European market for research' has any justification at all, then it will also serve as a reminder that its attainment will likely be a work-in-progress for a long time to come, just like the single market itself.

European Commission – ERA progress report 2013