At the turn of the millennium, the European Union, worried that it was lagging behind the US and Japan in science and innovation, set itself a lofty goal: the European Research Area (ERA).
The bloc, which grew out of a common market project that broke down trade barriers, now dreamed of creating what was later called a “single market for science” to complement the EU’s prized “four freedoms” of capital, people, services and goods. …
It envisioned an EU in which “people and knowledge can spread more freely”, the integration of academics in Eastern and Western Europe, and the opportunity for countries to “coordinate” what types of research they fund to avoid “duplication” of policies.
For the past two decades, Brussels has tried to advance this unifying vision, but frustrated by the pace of change, some universities now feel it needs more push.
The ERA remains “a project in progress,” said Jan Palmowski, secretary general of the Guild of European Research Universities. Despite progress, “the original goals were not achieved”.
With ERA being a priority for current Research and Innovation Commissioner Maria Gabriel, Brussels is working to create a new buffet of goals that will enable it to succeed. One of their goals is for governments to spend 1.25 percent of gross domestic product on research and development.
But several university associations are outraged by publicly warning last month that goals will not be binding and feel excluded from the process.
“It won’t work if you want … free movement of researchers, students and knowledge between member countries,” said Kurt Deketelaer, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities. “It is an illusion to think that you are going to create a fifth freedom without a legal framework.”
In the end, he said, mandatory measures were taken to realize the coveted EU common economic market.
Countries continue to spend very different amounts on research, and, according to Professor Palmowski, this is the main barrier to the full circulation of scientists in the block.
The latest report from the ERA commission found that the Norwegian government spent 1 percent of GDP on research in 2016, while Poland spent just 0.16 percent.
While there are exceptions, the wealthy Nordic and Scandinavian countries tend to be major investors, while the former communist states are lagging behind.
This imbalance means a constant brain drain to countries that already have advanced research. “As long as you have completely different spending on research and innovation, you will have a concentration of researchers in places that spend more,” said Professor Palmowski.
Another stumbling block is that researchers looking to relocate to the EU still face “27 different employment, tax and research career patterns,” said Prof Decetelaer, as the continent is still a patchwork of care rights. for children, social security systems and career ladders. …
The newly created “European universities” – consortia of institutions across the continent trying to integrate their research and strategies – recently reported dozens of headaches caused by such national barriers.
However, in some parts of the ERA – which, while focused on the EU, are sometimes defined as including neighboring countries such as Switzerland, the UK and Norway – it is now “completely unremarkable” for universities to recruit from other European states, which does not cause – more eyebrows than a Texas scientist escaping to California, ”said Professor Palmowski.
In Switzerland, for example, more than a third of doctoral students come from EU countries. Israel, Denmark and Austria are also magnets for mobility.
But other systems stubbornly remain national. In Lithuania, Poland, Greece and Romania, less than one in 100 doctoral students come from other EU countries. However, there are signs of discovery; According to the commission, since 2007, the share of mobile doctoral students in ERA countries has been growing by about 4% per year.
“The ERA is a mixture of real and rhetorical things,” said Giulio Marini of the Center for Higher Education Research at UCL. Probably more important in allowing researchers to cross borders were EU freedom of movement rules, which the UK abandoned, and unhindered movement across the Schengen area. In his opinion, the ERA “itself is not a driving force for big change.”
It boasts notable successes: EU member states now regularly build science infrastructure together, and over the past two decades, about 20 billion euros (£ 17.4 billion) have been spent on 37 projects. Observers also applaud the great advances in open science and open access to articles.
And as research and innovation moved “to the center of the table” for politicians in Brussels, as it was seen as an engine of growth, Professor Palmowski explained, the ERA became increasingly important.
But 90 percent of research funding still comes from nation states, Prof Deketelaer warned, and there is little indication that national sponsors are pooling their resources to avoid doubling projects across the block. “Member states do not want to relinquish power,” he said.