Happy Birthday, ERC!
(January 10th, 2017) This year, the European Research Council turns ten. Started as a pioneering experiment back in 2007, it has since become a genuine success story.
“I wake up in the middle of the night more frequently than I used to (…) My colleagues and I very much feel the responsibility of this. We are not playing political games of influence. But I am also very excited. It's one of those magical moments when the time has come for a big idea that has captured people's imagination,” Fotis Kafatos, ERC's first president, told The Guardian a week before the European Research Council was officially born on 27th February, 2017.
“In Europe, we are not good to our young scientists. We make them jump through hoops when they should be running. There is a hierarchical scientific system, with a very few powerful people at the top, that does not engage the creativity and enthusiasm of the young - so they vote with their feet. (… ) I am absolutely certain the ERC will succeed. (…) We will make mistakes along the way, but we will correct them. We are running a marathon and the path ahead is clear,” he added.
He couldn't have made a more precise prediction. Especially in the early days, the ERC has often been criticised for its too complex governance structure, its inflexible funding philosophy and low transparency. Its sole focus on funding “excellent” research, however, has always been praised as one of the best ideas in science funding.
Despite those teething problems, the ERC has, throughout the last decade, become one of the most important funding mechanisms in Europe. Until now, it has funded close to 7,000 projects, resulting in about 100,000 scientific articles. Not less than 15 EU countries set up ERC-like funding schemes on a national level. More than half (64%) of the ERC grants went to early career researchers. Six Nobel Prize winners did some of their research with the help of an ERC grant. Amongst them May-Britt and Edvard Moser (Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 2014), and this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate, Ben Feringa. In his Nobel lecture, he said “[ERC] generously supports us with funds for fundamental science which is so crucial for this kind of work; laying the foundations for technologies of 30/40/50 years from now.”
Birthday preparations are in full swing. “It is time for celebrations in Brussels and all across Europe and for reflection on the past decade and on the future,” the ERC announced. To do so in style, the Council plans an “ERC week”, taking place from 13th to 19th March with various activities, ranging from talks over conference to open days. On 21st March, there will be a special event in Brussels, presenting successful ERC projects, the funding body's achievements and future challenges.
For more information, the ERC has setup a mini website.