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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 14:45 GMT
Euro science looks to new council
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter, in Washington DC

Scientist in the lab, Eyewire/BBC
Some think Europe's funding system is "over-bureaucratised"
A European Research Council to fund science across the EU is close to being realised, says the European Commission.

The EC told a Washington conference it also wanted to double annual science funding from five to 13 billion euros (3.5-9bn or $6.5-17bn).

The council (ERC) is conceived as being independent from the Commission.

It could be set up as early as 2006, if the proposals are accepted by both the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers.

The EC's comments were made by Brussels officials attending the annual meeting here of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In Europe, research is funded by individual national agencies as well as the EU's Framework 6 programme (FP6). But FP6 has been criticised widely for being over-bureaucratic, skewed towards big, complex collaborations and subject to political pressures.

Perceived shortcomings have led to calls for a European Research Council to support basic research across all disciplines.

European Commission spokesperson Patrick Vittet-Philippe confirmed that the ERC would form part of the submission for Framework Programme 7.

"What is not clear are the competiton and control aspects and how the money would be managed," he told the BBC News website.

Campaign groups have warned that unless Europe streamlines its funding process, it risks losing top scientists to other countries, notably the United States, where the investment process is seen as being more efficient.

The ERC is envisioned as an independent, quality-driven funding body run by scientists, modelled on the US National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health.

Supporters argue that it would drive up the competitiveness and, by extension, the quality of scientific research within Europe.

The United States' R&D spend is about 40% of the world total.

US industry, government and other sectors spend more on R&D than the entire EU combined.

This disparity in research funding is already feeding a brain drain of scientists from Europe to the US, as recently highlighted by the UK's Royal Society.

EU member states tried to address the imbalance in the 2000 "Lisbon strategy", which promised an agenda for transforming Europe into "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world".

But a mid-term review published last year was highly critical of progress on delivering the strategy, blaming a "lack of determined political action".

Stakes high for EU science plans
01 Dec 04 |  Science/Nature

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