On January 1, Portugal took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union, and announced three top priorities: to promote Europe’s recovery from the pandemic, its programmes for social solidarity, and its “strategic autonomy.”
Important for success is a focus on research careers, and on strengthening the European Research Area – a set of policies promoting cooperation and mobility of ideas and researchers across the EU. So argues Manuel Heitor, Portuguese minister for science, technology and higher education.
Progress achieved in the development of the European Research Area over the past 20 years has attracted broad support, and now it is time to challenge European citizens and institutions to further enhance and improve it. As part of that, as we launch the next EU R&D programme Horizon Europe, we must reaffirm the target that the EU spend 3% of gross domestic product on R&D by 2030 [up from 2.18% in 2018].
It is under this context that the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union will follow the Council “trio” recommendations, the EC communication of September 2020 and the Council conclusions of December 2020. It will focus on three main issues considered crucial for research and innovation, and that respond to the ERA quest for more coordination and that encourage member states to invest in a number of flagship areas under the platforms to be established through the Next Generation EU [pandemic recovery programme] and in articulation with Horizon Europe:
- Firstly, the relationship among science, employment and resilience is key to foster the emerging recovery of Europe at large, and requires that every single European region becomes central to this debate. Science and technological knowledge create markets; and populations at large need to be better aware of the non-linear behaviour of research and innovation to create better employment. In this context, synergies between national and European programmes are essential, including with the Next Generation EU recovery fund. The role of national funding agencies and their cooperation with the European Commission is crucial to ensure these synergies. But the role of socially responsible industry and entrepreneurs is also critical for the future of Europe and for the need to better promote and increase the level and scope of business R&D.
- Secondly, open and collaborative research needs to be fostered to promote new frontiers of knowledge and overcome all types of borders. Clear examples include cancer research, genetically improved food, the physics of the universe, advanced materials and nanoscience, or quantum physics, among many other disciplines. But, overall, we need to better evolve in the “science of the Anthropocene”. As demonstrated by COVID-19 [thought to have originated in bats] an alarming signal is given by zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, which have been increasing due to the pressure that our societies and their economic development exert on nature (see, for instance, the UN’s Human Development Report). It is a clear manifestation of the unbalanced influence of human beings on Earth, which is also expressed through climate change. The eventual scientific demonstration of these relations with the pandemic with which we now live requires more knowledge to be able to ask more accurate and difficult questions and better understand the risks we run, as well as to guarantee that Europe lead the scientific evolution in this new geological era of the Anthropocene. To that end, new knowledge across disciplines, institutional innovation across public and private institutions, and new observation methods making use of low-orbit satellite systems are needed to better guide our common future. In this respect, it is expected that the role of philanthropy and private foundations is increasingly relevant in Europe and should be carefully articulated with national funding agencies, scientific organisations and the European Commission.
- Last but not least, we need to foster research careers and increase the professionalisation of research activity, either in public or private sectors. Europe must improve the conditions to further attract and retain researchers in comparison with other areas of the world. For example, the European Research Council, which has built a unique consensus across the research community in Europe, should continue to be strengthened, promoting recruitment that is better coordinated across countries. Potential future avenues should also guarantee that “multidirectional” and “balanced” brain circulation becomes effective across Europe, far beyond “unidirectional” mobility schemes. This may require a stepwise approach to promote joint recruitment schemes and joint career development across the European Universities programme, as well as across research institutions at large in different EU member states, to foster true European research careers. Again, the role of national funding agencies and their cooperation with the European Commission is crucial to ensure these synergies.
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Official website of the Portugal’s presidency of the European Union can be found here.