The European Research Area

The European Research Area (ERA) is the EU’s "Single Market for Knowledge". It combines expertise, scientific knowledge and resources to address societal challenges.

decorative image

 Adobe Stock / Mopic

The Renewal of the European Research Area in 2021: A Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe and the ERA Policy Agenda

Green and digital transitions are key components of Europe’s growth strategy for the decade leading to 2030. The commitment towards value-based practices, policies meeting the needs of citizens and a stronger Europe in the world are also decisive for the renewal of the European Research Area (ERA). As the COVID-19 pandemic recently demonstrated, European and international cooperation in research and innovation are crucial in order to achieve these objectives. In order to better address this, a renewal of the ERA was launched during the German Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2020.

Cooperation in the ERA is based on the "Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe", which was adopted by the European Commission and the Member States at the end of 2021. The pact defines values, principles and priorities for action in the ERA for the next ten years. Furthermore, the ERA Policy Agenda 2022-2024 serves as a concise roadmap for the European Commission, the Member States, regional actors and research organizations to achieve the pact’s goals. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), the European Hydrogen Initiative, the citizen science project "Plastic Pirates- Go Europe!" along with the expansion of EURAXESS into a talent platform for researchers are all part of this roadmap.

The pact identifies the following four priorities for cooperation in the ERA:

1. Intensifying cooperation to build a "true Single Market for Knowledge"

Researchers and young scientists are paramount for Europe’s research excellence and the European Research Area should offer them attractive career opportunities and employment perspectives – not only in science, but in other fields such as in business and industry. World-class research and technology infrastructures, open science and gender equality are all critical factors to achieve these goals. Synergies between the European Research Area and European Education Area should be expanded. International cooperation with global partners is another crucial aspect for the European Research Area.

2. Overcoming the challenges of the green and digital transition together and strengthening society’s participation in the European Research Area

The green and digital transition are major challenges for European society and economy. The EU and the Member States aim to encourage companies towards higher and more efficient R&D investments and stronger support for SMEs. In alignment with the industrial strategy of the EU, knowledge transfer between science and industry should be fostered and strengthened within local and regional R&I ecosystems. Stronger citizen participation in research and innovation is also a central step towards the green and digital transition.

3. Enhancing access to research and innovation excellence across the Union and establishing stronger links between R&I ecosystems in the EU

The R&I divide between the north-western and south-eastern EU Member States is persistent. The EU and the Member States are striving for an equal level of excellence in order to leverage the full potential of research and innovation. Countries that need to catch up should increase their own investments and will additionally receive the EU specifically for this purpose. The exchange of scientists across the EU ("brain circulation") is meant to be to every Member State’s benefit and generally increase the level of excellence. Further strategical reforms of research institutions and science management are therefore indispensable.

4. Propelling concerted investments and reforms in research and innovation

National investments in research and innovation are essential for an efficient European Research Area. Europe is planning to close the investment gap with regard to other global regions. Coherent cooperation between the EU, national and regional research systems is necessary for Europe’s competitiveness as well as its post-pandemic recovery. The investments should follow the principle of excellence and build efficient bridges to national reforms. The EU remains committed to ensuring an investment in R&D of 3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Horizon Europe strengthens the European Research Area

Like the predeceasing programmes, Horizon Europe is a central tool in achieving the goals of the European Research Area. For the first time since the 6th European Research Framework Programme, Horizon Europe contains a strong supporting element of structural reforms in the European Research Area with the programme aspect "Widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area".

A Brief History

The first initiatives towards a European Research Area date back to the 1970s, after which the research area concept was regularly developed further. The European Commission’s communication "Towards a European Research Area" in 2000 was an important milestone. Within the Lisbon Strategy between 2000 – 2010 , the European Research Area became the central guiding thought for measures taken by the European Union in the area of research.

Once the Treaty of Lisbon came into effect in December 2009, the materialisation of the European Research Area became part of the EU’s primary legislation (Article 179, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). This represented a decisive moment as the European Research Area turned into an obligatory mission for European Union and its Member States.

Over the past decade, the Europe 2020 Strategy (2010-2020) set a focus on "innovation" and "impact". With the flagship initiative "Innovation Union", the impact and contributions of research and development to industry and the economy became central aspects. The Member States then agreed to the ERA Roadmap 2015-2020, a joint plan for the implementation of the European Research area. Within this framework, complementary National Action Plans were created. Germany already had a head start as it had already launched more than 40 actions as part of the "Strategy of the Federal Government on the European Research Area" in 2014. The ERA’s progress has been tracked through regular monitoring reports regarding the implementation of the joint priorities in the Member States. A deceleration in its dynamic was shown in the ERA progress report from 2018, an observation that gave the impetus for a reorientation of the European Research Area starting in 2020.

Strategy of the Federal Government on the European Research Area

Under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, the German Federal Cabinet adopted the "Strategy of the Federal Government on the European Research Area - Guidelines and a National Roadmap" (in short: "ERA Strategy") on 16 July 2014. Germany was the first Member State to launch a national ERA strategy. The strategy was developed in close coordination with the German Alliance of Science Organizations. It contains political guidelines for Germany’s position in the European Research Area. At its core is the national roadmap covering more than 40 measures. The  "Federal Government Report on International Cooperation in Education, Science and Research" provides information about the current state of implementation of the ERA.

Definition of the European Research Area (ERA)

The realisation of the European Research Area, with its inherent right of freedom of movement for researchers and the free exchange of scientific knowledge and technologies, is a joint task of the EU and its Member States (Article 179, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The ERA’s objective is to empower the Member States’ research systems for the future, to pool and coordinate resources as well as to establish coherent conditions for researchers in Europe in order to bolster the EU’s global competitiveness. Horizon Europe, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, is instrumental in the realisation the European Research Area (Article 180, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The European Research Area, however, transcends the scope of the Framework Programmes, as more than 90 percent of the EU budget for research is composed of financing at a national level in the Member States. With this financing, Member States and regions secure the realisation of EU wide goals, commitments and measures in the area of research.