13th Nov 2018

EU science agency to help chase US

The European Union has created a new scientific agency to fund the best and brightest thinking in the bloc so it can keep its edge in the face of stiff competition from the US and others.

Five years in the making and launched on Tuesday (27 February), the European Research Council has a budget of €7.5 billion until 2013 and is to fund research into new technology to keep Europe competitive.

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  • The ERC will have a €7.5bn budget until 2013 (Photo: Notat)

Speaking at the launch of the event, German chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a trained physicist, said that "research and new technologies can be driving motors for a new economic dynamic, they can even provide a basis for growth in Europe, for keeping and increasing our prosperity and competitiveness."

Headed by Professor Fotis Kafatos, a 22-strong panel based in Brussels will assign funding to projects of scientists and researchers based in Europe.

"It will be an interesting yardstick to see if we have succeeded in bringing people back into Europe who had left, or have attracted new talent into Europe," Mr Kafatos said according to the BBC.

The new research council is in response to the constant criticism levelled at the EU that it is lagging behind the US for investment in research and development.

This fact is acknowledged periodically by member states but they have done little to change it - although they all signed up to the individual goal of spending at least 3 percent of GDP on R&D by 2010.

However the fast emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses means the need for action has become more acute.

"The ERC is the first body of experts at EU level which takes largely independent funding decisions based solely on the excellence of the basic research projects proposed," said German research minister Annette Schavan.

The launch of the ERC comes hot on the heels of another research-based initiative - the European Technology Institute.

Pushed by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, although member states remain sceptical about how useful it will be, the institute is set to be launched next year.

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