Europe has made great strides towards agreeing on a genuine new mechanism to fund frontier research – the European Research Council (ERC). This is a cornerstone for achieving the ambitions of the European Council (Lisbon agenda) to increase substantially Europe’s innovativeness and competitiveness. The aim is to boost fundamental research as a means to be a winner in a world wide knowledge-based economy.
What has been collectively achieved over the past three years by a coalition of many organizations of scientists in Europe, research councils and politicians is impressive and commendable. The Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE) was established last year to unify over 50 European organizations representing all scientific disciplines in their support of the ERC, and a manifesto stating the position of the scientific community was published in Science on August 6, 2004. The time has now come for the European Competitiveness Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission to see to it that the ERC clears the last remaining hurdles and receives a strong budget commitment and a statute guaranteeing its independence.
The ERC will strengthen Europe’s science base by challenging the best and most original European scientists to develop ideas for breakthroughs at the frontiers of science, without the limitations existing in national funding systems or the target-oriented Framework Programmes. Science, taking its starting point in curiosity to understand something no one else understood so far, has always been a fertile soil and a necessary condition for long-term economic growth, employment and for improving the quality of life of our citizens. Europe has suffered from creating a contradiction between funding the science base and financing targeted research, and left the first to national prerogatives. We need both frontier research and targeted research, as there is no application without a discovery. A Euro spent on frontier research will trigger multiple Euros spent by industry. Important efforts elsewhere testify to this conviction with very significant increases in funding in the life sciences and nanosciences in the USA and in the Asian countries. Together with the creation of new funding organizations in the latter countries based on the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this will lead to a huge increase in basic science.
Claus Nowotny | alfa
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