DAY 2 (27 October 2021) - Stakeholders’ Workshop Breakout session 1: ERA for Research Infrastructures Background paper
Research infrastructures (RIs) are key elements of the European Research Area. Two years after its inception in 2000, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures was established, mandated by the EU Council:
- to support a coherent and strategy-led approach to policy-making on research infrastructures in Europe, and
- to facilitate multilateral initiatives leading to the better use and development of research infrastructures at the EU and international levels.
Since then, a thriving system of over 50 European RIs has been established, mobilising approximately €20 billion investments across the EU. The system is complemented by numerous national research infrastructures, several of which are also open to transnational users. Together these RIs are key elements of the research and innovation ecosystem, supporting the advancement of science, addressing various societal challenges and contributing to economic and technological progress.
With such an elaborated landscape of RIs, their sustainability is a recurrent issue, high on the agenda of the policymakers, funders and RIs. It has recently been addressed by ESFRI, the European Commission and the OECD.
The success and sustainability of RIs are critically linked to the availability of sufficient and diverse funding, and its efficient use. Recent Proposal for a Council Recommendation on a Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe by the European Commission1 proposes to develop further the open access to, and better exploitation of, European and national research infrastructures, including e-infrastructures, consider employing a broader range of funding sources for world-leading research infrastructures and exploring novel ways of funding transnational and virtual access. The topic is further elaborated in the proposal for ERA Policy Agenda, under discussion by the Commission's expert group of ERA Forum for transition.
Several RIs bring together investments from many countries and different funding streams (national, EU, regional), thus pooling their resources towards a shared objective. Some countries have also published dedicated calls under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the ESFRI and ERIC infrastructures on their national roadmaps. To strengthen this further, the ESFRI White Paper emphasises the importance of the inclusion of RIs in the renewed Smart Specialization Strategies (S3), which represent an enabling condition and a strategic framework for investments of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). In order to be able to benefit from these funds, RIs need to consider that ESIF will focus on "regional research and innovation aspect", complementary to Horizon Europe, which will focus on European Excellence. ESIF is therefore more focused on supporting the diffusion of existing knowledge and technology, rather than their creation, embedding it locally or regionally via S3. This becomes increasingly important in the light of the new ESIF programming, which will also be focused on enhancing synergies between other funding possibilities while taking into account different timings, modalities of interventions and eligible programme areas for co-financing. Additional opportunities of enabling synergies lie in the recently adopted recovery efforts under Next Generation EU and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which supports reforms and investments in line with Country-specific recommendations, targeting mostly green and digital transition.
The breakout session aims to bring together various stakeholders to discuss the bottlenecks faced by the RIs. It will also contribute to the discussion on the funding of various RIs through the prism of various funding sources – regional, national, and European, grants and loans, and their use in synergy.
Key questions for discussion:
- How can various funding sources, be they grants or loans, on regional, national and EU levels, be used in synergy to support the sustainability of research infrastructures?
- What are your key funding sources for providing/receiving access to RI services and resources? What specific challenges do you experience?