The advancement of scientific research, technological development and innovation is an explicit goal of the European Union (EU). Ever since it was founded, the EU has focussed on encouraging cooperation between researchers in different countries through its framework programmes for research and innovation. In the year 2000, the EU decided to pursue even greater coordination among member and associate states in the area of science, research and innovation with the aim of establishing a "European Research Area".
In Lisbon in March 2000, the European Council formulated an ambitious concept - the creation of a European Research Area (ERA). The idea was for the ERA to become as important for European research and innovation as the Single European Market (SEM) has been for Europe's economy. European Union Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development are the main instrument used in pursuit of this objective.
The EU established the objective of completing the main outline of the ERA by the end of 2014. However, the ERA Progress Report 2014, which assesses progress towards implementation of the ERA, points out that despite considerable progress, there is a need to continue implementation within the ERA. In particular, member and associated states need to carry out reforms. In 2015, the European Research Area Committee (ERAC) therefore adopted a new roadmap covering the following priorities:
- Effective national research systems: reinforcement of evaluation of research and innovation policies; creation of synergies between national and European levels; awarding of funding on the basis of scientific excellence and increased expenditure for science and research;
- Transnational cooperation: e.g. through the networking of national research programmes and organisations as well as the transnational definition of common research agendas through instruments such as Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs) - i.e. the creation of transnational research programmes) or ERA-NETs (i.e. the coordination of national and regional research and innovation programmes);
- Research infrastructures: optimise public expenditure in research infrastructures (RI) by aligning national priorities with the roadmap established by ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) and facilitate access to RI for scientists from all over Europe. Swiss participants wishing to apply for an RI to be listed in the forthcoming ESFRI roadmap, please refer to the ESFRI roadmap guide and to the Swiss short guide;
- Open labour market for researchers: promotion open, transparent recruitment practices based on the merit of candidates and aligned with the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the recruitment of researchers;
- Equal opportunities: targeted measures to encourage gender equality in science and research, particularly within national research funding institutions;
- Knowledge transfer and free access to data and research findings: encouragement of exchanges between public and private stakeholders; use and development of free online electronic platforms both for publications and scientific data;
- International cooperation: reinforcement of cooperation with third states, both at the national level and through Horizon 2020, with the aim of taking advantage of the best research and innovation opportunities worldwide.
The measures taken by countries involved in implementation of the ERA are closely guided and evaluated by the EU. Progress towards implementation of the ERA is described in the annual ERA Progress Report. Monitoring activities shall be intensified and improvements made to these quality and impact assessments.
The annually updated Innovation Union Scoreboard report goes in a similar direction. It compares various innovation indicators in European countries involved in the ERA. Switzerland is also included as an associated country.
Switzerland and the ERA
The creation of a European Research Area is a strategic objective of the European Union. Sharing the ambitious goals of the ERA and considering its participation as part of its strong scientific tradition, Switzerland is part of ERA activities as an associated country.
The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) works to ensure that scientists in Switzerland are able to take part in EU research framework programmes. It also coordinates Swiss participation in various initiatives and committees that seek to establish the ERA.