CNRS Helps Build Europe
ERA-Nets, the European Research Area Networks, actively contribute to the process of unifying research across Europe. The long-term goal is to keep European science competitive. CNRS is a major player in this project.
© V. Gutton for the CNRS International Magazine
We can't just work alone,” explains Izo Abram, CNRS' newly appointed Director of European and International Relations. “Scientific progress is made through communication and collaboration. Each country has evolved differently and we can take advantage of this diversity.”
This is the recurring message behind the European Commission's series of “Framework Programs” that have financed European scientific collaboration for the past 20 years. In 2004, a new collaborative system was launched: the “ERA-Net” (European Research Area Network). These networks bring together national research agencies from the 25 member states and 8 associate states, allowing them to coordinate their courses of action and gently prod their national research communities to work together. In addition to scientific programs, the ERA-Net Consortia also launch outreach programs that promote transparency and inform the general public and communities across
Europe on the ethical and social implications of scientific research. Working together, these national organizations can dispel myths and educate the public. “One of the ideas behind ERA-Net is also to find a common way of addressing the major concerns of society,” says Abram.
But what about financing? “In Europe, the vast majority of research (90 to 95%) is financed and steered by national funding agencies, each operating on its own territory, independently, and without any coordination,” says Abram. “The funds that come from Brussels are only the tip of the iceberg, as they finance only 5 to 10% of European Research.” ERA-Nets are also mainly financed by national funds but participating agencies often group their contributions in a common fund. The European Commission simply provides the means for the agencies to work together, by funding the extra costs needed for coordination, such as travel, a joint secretariat, and joint actions.
The 68 ERA-Net projects now in place coordinate national programs in fundamental research fields as varied as Plant Genomics and Pain Management. Many of the ERA-Net projects, such as those covering Aging or Organic Food and Farming, also address key policy issues at the European level.
CNRS is currently a partner in 13 ERA-Net projects in areas ranging from astronomy to renewable energy, and acts as coordinator of four specific projects: NanoSci-ERA (Nanoscience), ASPERA (Astroparticles), ECORD (Ocean Drilling), and AStrONET (astronomical instrumentation). CNRS also participates in three ERA-Nets structured around geographical regions rather than along thematic lines: CO-REACH (China), AOUDA (India), and SEE-ERA.NET (Balkans). The goal of geographical ERA-Nets is to allow the European scientific community to develop a unified approach to these emerging scientific areas, and to provide a common liaison for future collaborations–what Abram refers to as “a single access point to the entire European scientific community.”
A united European Research Area is essential to keep European science competitive with the US market. “We know that the US is ahead in sciences,” says Abram. “Why? Because it is a unified market–that means mobility and cooperation.” In the US, nearly 20% of the 300,000 articles published annually are co-publications between two or more states. In Europe, although the overall number of publications is similar, only 10% of articles are co-publications between two or more European countries. “A tight collaboration among European national programs will help create a unified European Research Area. That's why Europe needs ERA-Net,” comments Abram. “Engaging in ERA-Nets is helping close the 'collaboration deficit' in Europe, overcome the fragmentation of European research along national lines, and make the European Research Area a reality, capable of confronting the greatest scientific, economic, and societal challenges.” An endeavor in which CNRS is actively engaged.
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