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On 24 January 2024, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager launched a new Proposal for a Council Recommendation on enhancing research security. The policy document comes in the form of a Proposal for a Council Recommendation – this format being deemed as the most suitable to ensure that all member states are actively involved and committed at political level to the wider agenda of strengthening knowledge security across the union.
The initiative strives to provide more clarity and guidance, by facilitating more consistency across the current patchwork of measures in place at different levels in the R&I sector.
The overall EU approach follows the principle “as open as possible, as closed as necessary“ in international research cooperation, and puts higher education institutions at the forefront of decision-making. The document contains multiple references to academic freedom and institutional autonomy, providing a checklist of actions and safeguards that could be considered by research institutions, funding organisations and member states, without prescribing any course of action. This signals that universities and researchers are expected to take the lead in scrutinising potentially problematic research, the role of member states and funding organisations being to provide an adequate support framework and some concrete tools.
Amongst the panoply of proposed measures:
The proposal also includes plans to establish a European Centre of Expertise on Research Security, funded from the Horizon Europe budget, to create a focal point to pool EU-wide knowledge about research security. The Commission also plans for a biennial EU stakeholder forum on research security.
This development follows a prior debate on knowledge security and responsible internationalisation, hosted in the EU’s Competitiveness Council by the Swedish Presidency in May 2023 (ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2023). Although the Commission’s current proposal embodies a country-agnostic approach, it is clear that many of the suggestions were triggered by perceived risks and incidents in the research cooperation with China, with increasingly more member states and non-European countries launching China-specific policies (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, January 2024).
The policy document is part of a wider package of five measures meant to strengthen the EU’s economic security, in line with the European Economic Security Strategy of June 2023. The other four measures include:
ACA members will hold a series of peer learning activities on the topic of responsible internationalisation in higher education (and research) throughout 2024, through a dedicated Thematic Peer Group (TPG).