Towards a European Research Area

, par Maël Donoso, Translated by Kate Robinson

Toutes les versions de cet article : [English] [français]

Towards a European Research Area

In order to secure its influence in the world, the European Union must assert itself as a zone of excellence in the fields of science and technology, and must promote a research that is shared, responsible, attractive and independent.

The European Union is the key player in the international programme ITER for the development of nuclear fusion. Europe is home to the best telescope in the world, the VLT (Very Large Telescope), as well as the most advanced particle physics centre in the world, the CERN. One of the three top synchrotrons on the planet is to be found in Grenoble. In Paris alone the Université Pierre et Marie Curie is the world’s number one for mathematical research, and the île-de-France neuroscience network is practically unequalled in the international arena.

Yet even if the vitality of the European scientific space is indisputable, it is often lacking in visibility, and the absence of a strong scientific policy on the European level means that much of the potential of research programmes is lost.

Europe as a centre of scientific and technological excellence

The pursuit of strong scientific research in the twenty-first century is more than just an investment, it is a vital necessity.

Firstly, for demographic reasons : The world population is ever growing, and with it the needs and desires for facilities, information, communication, transport, health and living standards.

Secondly, for ecological reasons : Natural resources are limited and diminishing by the day. New solutions must be found in the areas of energy, agribusiness, raw materials and environmental protection. Europe needs its research to be organised and dynamic because our economy is largely built on high value added sectors, for which knowledge is the main resource.

Since we have the means to advance and because it is vital for the furthering of the European project, the EU must assert itself as a centre of excellence in the fields of science and technology.

Awareness is currently on the up. The European Commission is responsible for maintaining a Directorate-General for science and technology whose aim is to encourage research and consider the impact of new technologies on society (i.e. the domain of bioethics). The Seventh Framework Programme for science and technology - the key instrument of European research - has a budget of 50.5 billion euros for the period 2007 – 2013, with the aim of setting up a European Research Area. The endorsement of this policy is the first step in the direction of a European scientific area. We must, however, go further.

Promoting a scientific model which combines education, research and innovation

Turning Europe into a hub of excellence does not simply mean participating, with the aid of innovation, in the development of a high value added economy. The famous knowledge triangle made up of education, research and innovation is entirely justified, as scientific education, critical mindedness and curiosity are among the most essential elements for the preservation and development of our democracies. This is also why the development of basic research is crucial : it would be a grave error to focus on research that is purely applied and therefore subject to the imperative of profitability, and to forget that it is the role of science, first and foremost, to improve our understanding of the world. Historically speaking, our societies follow the legacy of the Enlightenment, and they can only be upheld by education and, in particular, by fostering scientific thought.

What kind of research do we want for Europe ? A good solution would be to promote research that is shared, responsible, attractive and independent.

  • Shared : because there is an ever-widening gulf between the scientific world and the public at-large, and because the popularisation of knowledge requires ever-greater resources.
  • Responsible : because science can be a great contributor to peace and international cooperation by uniting nations around common projects, and by producing technologies which are useful for everyone.
  • Attractive : because in order to assure its influence in the world, Europe must become a host-land for scientists, and an area of communication and exchange of knowledge.
  • Independent : because, due to security reasons, the EU needs to be able to develop and manage by itself those facilities and technological systems which are essential to the community.

The strategic dimension of research : Independent technology

This final point is particularly complex. A compromise must be found between the universal vocation of science and the very concrete strategic dimension linked to technological development. Making decisions regarding research also involves proposing a political model, as a scientific decision is rarely insignificant to politics. The Galileo network of satellites, for example, is a technological programme which demonstrates the development of European technologies and knowledge of Space. But it is also a strategic programme with the clear aim of assuring our autonomy in relation to the American GPS network. Technological independence for the EU may not be easily achievable, but has the potential to be of central importance to European security.

Even if the EU owes its formation to coal and steel, grey matter has always been our continent’s greatest resource. As for the rest, we can dream of the next ventures in the field of research : the exploration of space for example. At the European Space Agency, discussions are starting to take shape, spurred on by the managing director, in the aim of promoting manned flights.

A number of American flags currently cover the surface of the moon. When will there be a European flag flying on extra-terrestrial ground ? is grateful to the JE-Universités de Paris for sending us a summary of their work.

Image : Biomedical and medical research, source : Audiovisual service of the European Commission.

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