United for the Best Science Possible
(October 26th, 2017) EU-LIFE recently published a position paper, announcing key prioritities in the upcoming Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, FP9. One of the recommendations concerns the strengthening of basic research.
In their recommendations, the alliance of research centres in life sciences, EU-LIFE, demands "a more balanced FP9". Their main message was the need for a united Europe, together in research and innovation. “For us, the main objectives for FP9 should be to form a strong European research & innovation framework where researchers and innovators are able to perform the best science possible to create value,” says Marta Agostinho, EU-LIFE co-ordinator. “The key is to create not only economic value from research and innovation but also social value, better health, better environment, better food, etc.”
For EU-LIFE, the best way to achieve this is through basic science. Maybe counterintuitively, EU-LIFE believes this approach is likely to have the highest impact on our society. For this organisation, basic science is the main driver for the breakthroughs that Europe needs to move forward. “What’s important is to highlight that even though the impact of basic research is unpredictable - we don’t know where the benefits will come from - and it requires a longer time for society to see its effects, it’s an investment with a better reward,” says Agostinho.
To achieve its potential in terms of innovation, basic research requires public funding. According to Agostinho, this is another reason why EU-LIFE backs their recommendation to focus on basic science. “In later stages of innovation, the risk of investment is lower and so private sector is ready to invest. In the early stages, in basic research, this is not so; it’s too risky for private sector. This is why public investment is needed.”
This urge for greater investment explains another of their recommendations to double the funding available to 150 million euros. This budget would be used to fund the European Research Council (ERC); more collaborative projects and more researchers to drive Europe further. Sadly, at the moment, many proposals pass the quality threshold and are evaluated as excellent proposals but they remain unfunded. “We really need to increase the success rate in FP9 compared to Horizon2020. Currently, in some schemes such as the Marie Curie Actions, it’s like a lottery because whereas many excellent proposals are funded, others equally excellent are not, due to lack of funding. Because of the extremely low success rates of these excellent proposals, we risk driving the best researchers in the world away from Europe,” says Agostinho.
In fact, in the future, Agostinho would like to see a collaborative research reaching all corners of Europe. This requires, however, stronger support from all member states, which need to invest at least 3% of their GDP in research. “I would like to see, under FP9, that Europe is able to retain the best scientists in the world and promote a European Research Area, where scientists at all stages of their career have excellent conditions and infrastructures to perform breakthrough research.”