Prioritizing ‘bottom-up’ investments in infrastructures, as well

Published in Protocols & Methods

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In this month’s editorial we discuss the importance of prioritizing funds for researcher-originated projects, such as those supported by the European Research Council (ERC) over thematically-defined grants inEurope’s next program for research and innovation.

In addition to the ERC, another instrument that will be of critical importance for the competitiveness of Europe’s researchers is good access to world leading research infrastructures.

In 2002, the European Union set up the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), a group of senior science administrators who advise national governments and the European Commission on infrastructure needs. In 2006, the ESFRI released its first roadmap: a list of 35 infrastructure projects that the forum deemed to be of pan-European interest. This roadmap has been subsequently updated to include a total of 44 initiatives and after several years of financial support to the ‘preparatory’ phases, some of these projects are finally ready to enter the critical ‘realization phase’.

However, taking all 44-initiatives through the construction phase is estimated to cost the EU ten times more than the funds allocated to these projects under FP7. Horizon 2020’s proposed budget follows a similar trend.

To ensure that at least the most successful projects defined under ESFRI see the light of day, ESFRI needs more funds and more power to act.

As discussed in a prior editorial, the creation of the ESFRI was an important first step, but not enough, as the forum neither funds the projects nor sets explicit priorities among them. Following the model of the ERC, ESFRI should be given the autonomy to evaluate infrastructure projects on the basis of their scientific promise, prioritize them and, ultimately, to fund them.

The creation of such a ‘European Research Infrastructure Council’ should be accompanied by the necessary stimulus in funds so that successful projects make it through the realization phase and investments that have already been made can be fully exploited.

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