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Europe of Knowledge 2014: High Expectations and Complex Realities

Inga Ulnicane


Image: “The Large Hadron Collider/ Atlas at CERN. Source:”

The New Year of 2014 in European research policy comes with a couple of high profile events: launch of Horizon 2020 – one of the largest research funding programmes worldwide and envisaged completion of the European Research Area – so far the most comprehensive initiative in transnational knowledge governance. These major events involve a lot of activities at the organisational, national and global levels to facilitate effectiveness of research organisations and funding, to promote mobility and to support collaboration.

The year 2014 also marks a number of interesting anniversaries in the European research integration. It is the 60th anniversary of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research where among other things 25 years ago World Wide Web was invented. Moreover, 30 years ago the first European Framework Programme providing funding for research and development was launched. These events provide an opportunity to reflect on why and how transnational governance in the field of research has evolved and what kind of benefits has it delivered.


Context: why does transnational knowledge governance matter?

Research is a unique area of transnational governance because at the micro-level of the scientific community and research practice it has a long-tradition of internationalisation. Already in the Middle Ages learned institutions of the time – universities and monasteries – were linked by religious institutions having a broad pan-European scope (Crawford et al. 1993). Major university cities such as Paris, Bologna, Padua, Oxford and Toledo attracted faculty and students from all over Europe. During early professionalization of science in the 17th and 18th centuries researchers exchanged information in self-organising networks known as “invisible colleges” (Crane 1972; Price & Beaver 1966; Wagner 2008) and co-authored publications (Beaver & Rosen 1978). The late 19th century and the early 20th century witnessed active formation of international science associations (Crawford et al. 1993). Scientific community has developed a worldwide system of journals, associations, conferences, and personal and institutional networks. Some disciplines such as natural sciences have longer and stronger traditions of international interaction than others, e.g. social sciences and humanities. Thus, the scientific community already historically has been more internationally connected than most of the other professions. International links have facilitated scientific discoveries by ensuring circulation of knowledge and bringing together necessary expertise.

In the recent decades international collaboration among scientists have increased as shown for example by the growth of internationally co-authored publications (Adams 2013) due to a number of scientific and other reasons such as increased specialisation in science, growth of interdisciplinary research, need for complex instrumentation, growth of information and communication technologies, globalisation of industry, policies supporting internationalisation and easier travel (Katz & Martin 1997). Recently, focus on the need for research to solve the so-called grand challenges – major socio-economic problems of global scope in areas such as health, environment and energy (Cagnin et al. 2012) – provides an additional push towards international collaboration.

In parallel to trans-national research networks and practices, science is also characterised by diverse national systems and strong national interests. Most of the research funding is allocated nationally. Nedeva (2013) conceptualises relationship between internationalised research community and predominantly national research funding as a “tension between inherently global research fields and largely localised research spaces”. According to her, transnational research governance is emerging as an attempt to alleviate this tension. Important steps in the development of trans-national research governance started in the aftermath of World War II. These include intergovernmental initiatives in developing large-scale research infrastructures, gradual development of EU level research policy and global initiatives such as recent establishment of the Global Research Council.


Some milestones in transnational research governance

One of the major intergovernmental international science initiatives started in 1954 with the establishment of CERN, the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established by 12 European countries and strong involvement of the United States (Krige 2006) it has grown to 20 member states, many collaborating countries and some 10 000 scientists from more than 100 countries doing research there. Large-scale scientific infrastructure at CERN has enabled complex experiments such as observation of the Higgs boson in 2012 confirming the theory for which the Nobel prize in physics was awarded in 2013. Unexpectedly, in 1989 a major breakthrough far from the field of particle physics took place at CERN when in order to connect CERN’s internationally mobile staff Tim Berners-Lee invented World Wide Web; it was made freely available and lead to fast growth of the web. During its history CERN has experienced tensions between collaborative needs and national interests of its member states, which are present also in ongoing efforts to build a large scale scientific infrastructure such as the European Spallation Source (Hallonsten 2012).

In the gradual development of EU research policy, the launch of the First Framework Programme in 1984 was one of the major milestones. Initially, the Framework Programme mainly brought together existing initiatives such as the Joint Research Centre budget and the ESPRIT funding program for IT (Peterson & Sharp 1998). Moreover, increased involvement of the European Community in research experienced strong opposition from the major member states such as Germany and the UK. However, during 30 years the Framework Programme (with the Eighth Framework Programme known as Horizon 2020 starting in 2014) have expanded considerably, gained support from diverse stakeholder groups and experienced considerable shift in priorities, e.g. if the First Framework Programme was heavily dominated by funding for energy (50% of the budget) and ICT (25%) then in subsequent programmes funding for aims such as human capital and mobility experienced sharp increase.

The Framework Programme has facilitated cross-border collaborations and developed innovative research funding modes. However, a significant question is whether EU research policy can move beyond narrow focus mainly on EU level funding programmes (Banchoff 2003). The Framework Programmes/Horizon 2020 alone cannot address all the important issues in European research governance; having a more comprehensive mix of policy initiatives is important.


Completing the European Research Area in 2014: a realistic target?

The European Research Area initiative launched by the European Commission in 2000 is so far the most comprehensive initiative in developing transnational research governance (Edler et al. 2003; Delanghe et al. 2009). The key priorities for the ERA in which “researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely” are more effective national research systems, optimal transnational co-operation and competition, an open labour market for researchers, gender equality and circulation of scientific knowledge via digital ERA. The aim of ERA is to make European research more efficient, competitive and better able to address major socio-economic problems.

To achieve ERA aims, a number of revised and new funding and “soft” governance instruments are used. Funding instruments include not only new instruments within the Framework Programme (e.g. Networks of Excellence, Joint Technology Initiatives) but also joint research programmes among the member states and opening up of national programmes for international participation (Lepori et al. 2014).

Additionally, the ERA is developed by using “soft modes” of governance, i.e. the so-called Open Method of Coordination OMC which involves setting joint targets, monitoring how they are implemented in national policies and ensuring mutual learning. Such method of coordination is deemed to be appropriate to accommodate diversity of national research policies and heterogeneity of involved institutions; however its efficiency has been questioned (De Ruiter 2010; Kaiser & Prange 2004; McGuinness & O’Carroll 2010). The task of overseeing ERA-related OMC activities has been assigned to the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC) consisting of the EU Member States’ representatives. As the ERAC was formerly known as the CREST, Scientific and Technical Research Committee – advisory committee of national representatives established in 1974, an interesting question is if there is continuity of accumulating experience of mutual learning in EU research policy over 40 years.

While there have been considerable efforts to strengthen ERA governance as a partnership between the member states, stakeholders and the Commission, an important leadership function is undertaken by the Commission. For example, the Commission has undertaken the leading role in monitoring the ERA by publishing the first comprehensive ERA progress report in 2013; it remains to be seen if the monitoring exercises will enhance mutual learning and deliberation among the member states and stakeholders or will be seen merely as an additional reporting burden.

An important question remains about the usefulness of legal instruments in achieving the ERA aims. While the legally binding instruments can facilitate specific ERA priorities such as open labour market for researchers, it is less clear how much they can help in achieving “effective national research systems”. In 2013, new proposals (including the manifesto “A Maastricht for Research” by two members of the European Parliament) for legally binding measures to implement ERA were put forward. A possibility to make decisions in 2014 about the need for specific legal measures has been mentioned.

The year 2014 is a deadline for completing the ERA, as set out by a number of EU documents including the Innovation Union flagship. This deadline has been widely criticised by experts and stakeholders either as being set too early or as unnecessary for a very broad long-term agenda of ERA. As stated in the Science Europe Roadmap, ERA “is a long-term project, and to strive for its ‘completion’ would be to lack ambition”. Thus, in 2014 it is important to look beyond predictable headlines of “missed target” on how a comprehensive agenda of ERA can be implemented in a sustainable way.


Trends to watch in multi-level knowledge governance in 2014

Globalisation: some interesting ongoing developments at global level include an emerging worldwide network of research universities as well as activities dedicated to research integrity and open access by the Global Research Council – a voluntary cooperation among about 70 national and regional research councils established in 2012. At the times when new players (e.g. emerging economies like BRICS, MINTs[i], Asia) are shifting the balance of power in global science and higher education, it is interesting to observe new patterns of international collaboration and competition and Europe’s changing role and place, e.g. in Global University Rankings.

EU level: 2014 comes with important institutional and leadership changes in EU research governance. DG Research and Innovation is undergoing major reorganisation and will have a new structure. In May a new European Parliament will be elected and the Euroscience is planning to use the momentum to organise debates to raise the profile of science in Europe. The new Commission will come with a new Commissioner for Research and a new Commission’s president. In 2014 the European Research Council has a new president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. It remains to be seen if new leaders and new EU presidencies – Greece (January-June) and Italy (July-December) – bring new priorities to research policy.

National level: a number of events in 2013 led to questions about how much national governments and society value research. Austerity measures hit science in countries such as Greece and Spain, while new cabinets in Austria and Australia omitted dedicated science minister portfolios. In 2014 one of occasions prompting debates about value and evaluation of research at national level could be the completion of the Research Excellence Framework in the UK.

Stakeholders: in 2013 a number of European stakeholder organisations such as Euroscience, Eurodoc, Voice of the Researchers and others continued to raise their voices on core issues such as research careers, mobility and doctoral training. Further debates can be expected at one of the major biennial stakeholder events this year, i.e. ESOF 2014  Euroscience Open Forum.

Research organizations: last but not least – how universities and research institutes will be affected by and respond to the changes at global, European and national level and how are they going to use their autonomy to participate in and shape them?

These ongoing developments in trans-national and multi-level governance of knowledge lead to a number of scholarly and policy relevant questions, for example: the ERA is presented as a Single Market for research but is the market model relevant for organising research systems (Georghiou 2006) and scientific community (Hagstrom 1965)? What are the underlying ideas and values in the European knowledge governance? How research policy priorities of “excellent science” and “societal challenges” are defined and implemented? How multi-level research governance interacts with governance in related policy areas such as higher education, innovation, environment, regional development and economy?

In 2014, UACES’s ERA CRN will address these and other questions in a number of workshops and publications. We look forward to engaging with other scholars and practitioners interested in the multi-level knowledge governance.

Dr.Inga Ulnicane is a political scientist and European studies scholar specializing in multi-level governance and policy of science, technology, innovation and higher education.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


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[i] “BRICS” stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but “MINTs” stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

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