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The CNRS at the Center of European Research

Anne d'Albis is deputy director of the International Relations Office (DRI) of the CNRS, in charge of Europe and the European continent including Russia. Taking up duties in October 2001, she has led the move to reorganise the bilateral relations of the CNRS. Here she shares with Thema readers her thoughts on the 6th Framework Program and her warning not "to close off certain research avenues".

Why did the CNRS proceed to overhaul its patterns of bilateral cooperation?
Anne d'Albis: The CNRS has been clearly oriented toward Europe for a long time. The first agreement between the CNRS and another European research organisation dates back to 1950! This resolutely European outlook first took the form of exchange of researchers, and then collaborative projects, and associated laboratories. Our recent goal is to organise, update, and grow this ensemble of actions.

How has this modernisation taken place?
A. d'A. For the last year or so the European section of the DRI has been reviewing, one by one, all of the scientific cooperation agreements signed with European partners (27 in all). Most of these have to do with short-term sojourns by researchers, but these days much of the scientific mobility and exchange taking place in Europe is informal, financed by individual laboratories. For example a study by the French Embassy in Italy in 2000 found that two French scientists arrived in Italy every day of the year. This informally structured collaboration is vital since it is the yeast which makes other more structured forms of scientific cooperation work, like the structures the CNRS has been putting into place progressively since 1985.

What are some of these new collaborative tools?
A. d'A. They are the PICS*, or International Projects for Scientific Cooperation, LEA* (European Associated Laboratories laboratories-without-walls for co-defining and co-financing a research project), and the GDRE* (European Research Groupings) known as "small networks of excellence". The latter can include other research organisations, industrial groups or small firms. One of the features of the new collaborative agreements is a very thorough intellectual property clause. We are also moving to set up international joint laboratories* in France and abroad. These are fully functioning laboratories just like the joint labs the CNRS has established with French universities. They represent truly European research units, cofinanced by two partners from two European countries and employing researchers from both partner organisations.

How is the CNRS adapting to the new EU research programmes?
A. d'A.
Preparations for the 6th Framework Programme have been particularly intense at the CNRS. The CNRS Bureau in Brussels under Monika Dietl has organised an enormous campaign to inform scientists of FP6 opportunities, working closely with heads of CNRS scientific and administrative departments. Researchers have responded in great numbers to FP6 calls for expressions of interest.  FP6 has created new structures designed to contribute to building a European Research Area, in particular the Networks of Excellence* and Integrated Projects*. The Networks of Excellence bring into contact as many as a 1000 researchers working on the same theme. Integrated Projects involve industrial partners.

Isn't it true that something particularly French has emerged from the responses to the Framework offers?
A. d'A.
This is exactly right. The European Commission has clearly favored research on finalized problems as seen in the 50% financing offered for integrated projects compared to 25% financing of Networks of Excellence. Participation interest expressed by CNRS scientists, nevertheless, was 2/3 for Networks of Excellence and 1/3 for Integrated Projects, which is precisely the inverse proportion expressed in the overall response.

The 6th FP has, according to you, a weak point. What is that?
A. d'A. The big problem of the Framework Programme lies in its restricting participation to seven priority research themes1. As a result, most mathematicians, theoretical physicists and scientists from other disciplines as well find themselves excluded. If programmed research is important, non-programmed research is a guarantee of even greater innovation and discovery.

How can Europe include non-programmed research in its provisions?
A. d'A.
The major research organisations of Europe, including the CNRS, have created a structure called the European Science Foundation (ESF)2. This Foundation functions already to federate and organise research networks in areas not covered by the European Commission. The Foundation will take on a greater role in the years to come, particularly as organisations from Eastern Europe become members. Another response is the ongoing discussion on creating a European Research Council (ERC), a discussion taking place within the group of directors of European research organisations, EUROHORCs (European Union Research Organisations, Heads of Research Councils). By financing longterm fundamental research in emerging thematic areas, the ERC would complement the ESF and the Framework Programmes as one of the principal actors of the construction of a European Research Area.

1/ View web site See article on the 6th FPRTD in this issue.
2/ View web site See article on the ESF in this issue.

* See Glossary.


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Anne d'Albis
Direction des relations internationales du CNRS
E-mail: anne.dalbis@cnrs-dir.fr

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