European Union (EU) Ministers in charge of research policy met in Brussels on 1 December 2015 for the second part of the Competitiveness Council, devoted to innovation and research policy, chaired by Marc Hansen, Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research.
During this meeting, Ministers adopted conclusions on research integrity, promotion of equality between men and women in the European Research Area (ERA), as well as the governance of the ERA. On this topic, Marc Hansen welcomed the fact that the last Competitiveness Council under the Luxembourg Presidency had "fully covered our priorities" by adopting, "after fruitful and very constructive debates during the informal meeting of Ministers in charge of research in Luxembourg in July", conclusions on three topics considered essential for the achievement and implementation of the ERA.
There were also discussions on how best to use the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) to stimulate research and innovation.
Integrity in research
In these conclusions on research integrity, the Council pointed out the importance of respecting the fundamental ethical principles and integrity in innovation and research activities in the EU.
"The Council supports the fundamental principles such as those of the "European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity", drawn up by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and of Humanities (ALLEA), and called for them to be implemented at national and European level", stated Marc Hansen during the press conference which followed the Council, adding that the conclusions highlighted the importance of preventing misconduct and called for the development of a genuine culture of research integrity.
Marc Hansen also highlighted "the primary importance of integrity in research for high-quality research, as well as the socio-economic pertinence of the research".
European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, mentioned that if the objective of Europe is to be open to the world, then integrity in research is "crucial". "We need more responsibilty, both as individuals and institutions", he added.
Besides bringing the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity up to date, the Ministers agreed to strengthen Article 34 of the grant agreements of the Horizon 2020 programme, said the Commissioner. "These are good bases and we don't need to re-invent the wheel, but we are going to try to adapt to the digital transformation, in other words adapt research integrity in terms of digitisation", he continued.
Gender equality in the European Research Area
The Ministers further adopted conclusions on the promotion of equality between men and women in the European Research Area (ERA). These cover a certain number of aspects considered essential to allow men and women to benefit from equal opportunities in the area of research and innovation, which "will contribute to strengthening competitiveness and encouraging growth and job creation", it reads. These conclusions highlight "the importance of supporting cultural and institutional change, in the context of the ERA"s road map, to encourage gender equality", indicated Marc Hansen during the press conference after the meeting.
It primarily concerns encouraging Member States and the Commission to set ambitious objectives in the area of gender equality and to take concrete measures in their action plans and their strategies between now and mid-2016, complying with the conclusions adopted on 29 May 2015, concerning the roadmap for the ERA, during the period 2015–2020. In this regard, "the Ministers invited Member States to formulate their benchmarks for greater equality between men and women for teaching positions, where there is a more striking divide and, a fortiori, to make real progress to also attain greater equality between men and women in positions of responsibility and management roles", said Marc Hansen.
Carlos Moedas commented that as we have been discussing gender equality for a long time, "the time has now come" to act firmly and "change things". In this regard, the implementation of precise objectives to be achieved is necessary, according to the Commissioner. He said that the Commission is at the forefront in this area for having defined this type of objective for its groups of experts (40% of women) and in going even further in the context of the Horizon 2020 programme (50%). "It's up to us as Member States to change and implement these objectives, in order to act", he continued, welcoming the introduction of such objectives "for the first time" in Council conclusions and "the excellent work" of the Presidency in this context.
In its conclusions, the Council also invited research funding organisations to provide incentives to encourage research performance organisations to develop gender mainstreaming strategies. In addition, the Ministers "recognise the importance of regular data collection and of monitoring the implementation of policies to promote gender equality in research", continued the Secretary of State.
Concerning ERA governance, the conclusions adopted by Ministers foresee a reform of the ERA advisory which aims to make it more efficient and effective for the implementation of the ERA, as the Council had requested in prior conclusions on 29 May 2015.
Marc Hansen welcomed "the culmination of a long debate", saying "he was convinced" that with the adoption of these conclusions, "the ERA would find itself with better governance, allowing it to progress in a more effective way, in genuine partnership with Member States and the Commission".
European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI)
The Ministers proceeded to discuss the way in which the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) could be better used to stimulate research and innovation.
According to the Secretary of State, the EFSI has the potential to support the development of the European Research Area on condition of aiming clearly for a greater impact at research institutions and businesses, specifically by the development of knowledge, digital and research infrastructures in general".
The EFSI, the main element of the Juncker Investment Plan, aims to gather at least 315 billion euros of additional investment in the real economy over the next three years. The plan, which was partly funded by the Horizon 2020 programme, also aims to stimulate research and innovation, particularly in SMEs and very innovative businesses, remarked Marc Hansen.
On the subject of the infrastructure section of the EFSI, the Commissioner recalled that one billion euros was currently committed to research, science and innovation projects. He also said that the EFSI would allow the Horizon 2020 programme to be more ambitious, primarily by contributing up to 420 million euros to its funding.
Higher education and research
During an informal working lunch following the press conference, Ministers in charge of research policy also covered the issue of strengthening the links between higher education and research.
"We will debate [...] about better cooperation between the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area, a topic which is very close to my heart", indicated Marc Hansen at a press conference. According to the Secretary of State, while the two subjects are "closely related", better coherence in research policy and in higher education policy "is necessary both at national and European level".
The Commission also informed Ministers on several instruments in the field of research policy, including a pension-savings instrument for European research institutions (RESAVER), and the Science4refugees initiative.