European Commissioner for Science and Research
Conference on "Research infrastructures and the regional dimension of ERA"
"RIC 2009" Research Infrastructures Conference
Prague, 25 March 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen
Today we face an economic downturn the pain of which we can already feel. We are already taking some painkillers, but we know very well that the illness will need some stronger medicine: a prescription, not a panacea.
In these difficult times it is hard to find a ray of sunshine; it is hard to fight the knee-jerk reflex to retrenchment and protectionism; it is hard to see beyond the short term.
But I believe that the European Commission's response – the European Economic Recovery Plan – pulls the right levers to see us through the downturn to brighter days. And I believe that the European Union has the strength to steer the co-ordinated approach that we need.
Today let me explain how the European Research Area – and more particularly the development of European Research Infrastructures – fit into that coordinated approach. I would like you to leave this conference knowing just how important research infrastructures are to Europe's longer term competitiveness and recovery.
The Recovery Plan adopted in November is based on two main elements.
-First we need to deal with the crisis. We need a short-term package of measures to boost demand, save jobs and help restore confidence;
-but the recovery plan it also recognises that the dynamic knowledge-based economy that we set out to create through the Lisbon Growth and Jobs strategy must still remain the basis of our long term prosperity.
We must use "smart investments" now to make sure that we are well placed to grow when markets stabilise and the first green shoots of demand starts to appear.
So on the one hand the Recovery Plan calls for a strong fiscal stimulus. But on the other hand it contains proposals to channel € 5 billion of unspent funds to energy infrastructures, carbon capture and storage and broadband connections. And those proposals were backed by Europe's heads of states last week.
The Recovery Plan contains detailed proposals for partnerships between the public sector (using Community, national and European Investment Bank funds) and private sectors to boost clean technologies through support for research and innovation: these include:
-a 5 billion Euro "Green cars" initiative ;
-a 1 billion Euro European energy-efficient buildings initiative;
-and a "Factories of the future" initiative estimated at about 1.2 billion Euro.
So this is not a crisis package, it is a recovery package. It is not just softening the blow of the downturn, it is preparing the ground for the upturn. Recovery must be built on the knowledge economy. It is through the knowledge economy that we can ensure our future prosperity and competitiveness. I think that we have learn the lessons of history that investment in research is not a luxury; it should not be sacrificed when times get tough. Indeed at their summit last week European leaders called for research spending to be stepped up.
The knowledge economy is the leitmotif of Lisbon; of our agenda for making Europe competitive. But that is not the only reason to build our knowledge economy; it is also necessary to address the common challenges that concern us all as European citizens: energy security,... the environment,... or our ageing societies. These challenges have not gone away, even if they have been pushed from the front pages of our newspapers by the financial crisis.
Our knowledge economy must be built on the freedom of movement of knowledge in Europe – the "Fifth Freedom". The European Research Area will build a true European Single Market for research, where knowledge, researchers and technology can move across our frontiers in the same way as goods, people, services and capital already do.
Just as those first four freedoms – for goods, people, services and capital - have helped to make the European Union globally competitive, so ERA must be a major part of the EU response to the challenges of globalisation.
Just as those first four established freedoms must be defended from retrenchment and economic nationalism; so the growing and developing ERA must be defended from research protectionism.
As we approach difficult times what we need is not research contraction, but a balance of research competition and research cooperation.
Research infrastructures are a specific and crucial part of this strategy – a very "smart investment" indeed. Research Infrastructures draw in and tie together the research community, industry and policy makers, and by doing so address the problems of fragmentation and duplication in European research that has led in the past to wasted resources and made us lose ground to our global competitors.
Put simply, high quality, internationally accessible, optimised Research Infrastructures are the tools we need to carry out top quality research, and to solve problems faced by our society.
Research Infrastructures advance the continuous development of technologies and knowledge. Research infrastructures boost industrial innovation through commercial exploitation of spin-out technologies. Research infrastructures open up a potential market worth 9 billion Euros per year, with an annual growth of 5.5 % - impressive at any time, particularly impressive during these hard times.
Of course this means that Research Infrastructures have a huge regional impact. Hosting regions become the places where the next generations of top researchers are 'grown' and where their peers will want to come. They become a magnet for the best scientists and engineers and for new industry.
So Research Infrastructures can simultaneously do two things: they act as incubators for the three poles of what we call the “knowledge triangle” - research, education and innovation – bringing together excellence across borders and disciplines. And at the same time they directly boost the regions of Europe.
The benefits are clear; but then I am sure that you were already convinced of these. So what are the challenges? What do we need to do?
To be frank, research Infrastructures are complex and expensive. Increasingly so. Often they are simply beyond the reach of a one region, one nation or even one continent. They involve long term commitments and many partners.
The size of these projects, costing hundreds of millions of Euro for construction and several tens of millions of Euros every year for operation, means that we have to combine our efforts between Member States and across Europe. This is even more critical in times of increasing pressure on national budgets.
Putting just two national budgets together can help. The new Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory in Portugal, shows how bilateral cooperation can make state-of-the art facilities for research available and accessible. By sharing costs, Spain and Portugal will share the benefits of nano-machines, nano-electronics and nano-medicine that are far better than they could have managed alone.
We must reduce the waste and duplication that has dogged European research efforts for too long. That is why the work of the European Strategy Forum for Researchers (ESFRI) is so essential in developing coordinated initiatives and in making ERA a reality.
The new 'Roadmap' launched by ESFRI in December, really is a roadmap. It shows us where we have to go to answer the needs of the research community for the next 10-20 years. Its value is in enabling us to act in a coordinated way; but the ESFRI roadmap is also a catalyst – triggering the development of national roadmaps. These will be crucial in helping us all – at whichever level we operate – firstly to decide on our own priorities, and then to plan our joint efforts with European partners.
ESFRI has been so successful because it has allowed Member States to drive the coordination effort. And it is the Member States who must be the source of most of the 18 billion Euros that will be needed.
So what is the European Commission's role in all of this? It is in the three "F"s: Facilitation, Framework conditions and Financing.
In facilitating a coordinated approach to major infrastructures, and in promoting openness, accessibility and mutual learning, we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with ESFRI.
We must make available a legal framework for infrastructures of European dimensions that enables them to be constructed quickly and operated efficiently. This is especially true if we are to push forward smart investments during the economic downturn. The Commission adopted just such a proposal in July last year and I am pleased to say that the Czech Presidency is making real headway in finding solutions to the remaining concerns of Member States in the Council.
The Commission also has a major role in financially supporting the preparation of research infrastructures. And we are playing that role seriously.
With a budget of close to 1.7 billion Euro in the 7th Framework Programme for research up to 2013, we are not only helping the integration of existing facilities in Europe, but supporting the emergence of the next generation of research infrastructures. Through the European Investment Bank we also intend to leverage in a further 1 billion Euros for construction and operation of infrastructures.
Thirty-four projects from the ESFRI roadmap are already supported financially in their preparatory phase through the 7th Framework Programme. This will help to move the projects forward and leverage-in the additional financial commitments needed before construction can start.
Take for example the Extreme Light Infrastructure: an ultra powerful laser which will be built between 2013 and 2015. Research results from the ELI will be used in a broad range of scientific areas and will help us to understand how nuclear reactors age, and help us to develop new drugs. Several Central and Eastern European countries have already expressed interest in hosting this new facility.
And that brings me on to the role of the Structural Funds in supporting the development and consolidation of Research Infrastructures. In the Convergence regions, the Structural Funds have a potential 10 billion Euros for construction of Research Infrastructures and Centres of Competence.
One good example is the investment in cutting-edge equipment for imaging at the Nencki Institute in Poland, made with the support of Structural Funds. These imaging tools will be instrumental for better understanding of brain functions. Although not on the same scale as a large single-sited ESFRI project, this more modest investment will constitute one new node in a broader network of top-level imaging facilities throughout Europe. It will help the scientific community of the Warsaw region to interact with other state-of-the-art facilities such as those at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg.
That is why it is of critical importance to ensure that appropriate strategic Research Infrastructures are prioritized, are included in National Strategic Research Framework and subsequently in Sectoral Operational Programmes, so that Structural Funds can be earmarked in good time.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Effective cooperation is the only way forward. Our objective is to be able to perform first class fundamental research which corresponds to the needs of Europeans citizens and our common concerns.
Addressing our common concerns requires a common approach; and a common approach requires common sense. It is said that "common sense is the least common of all the senses", but I can see from the conclusions of this conference today that common sense is already prevailing. I can see that we are developing a coherent approach to building the research infrastructures of the future. An approach in which the regions of Europe are central.