Some research infrastructures, particularly in physics or astronomy, are so large, complex or expensive that they require international cooperation for their construction and operation. Others are naturally global in scope as they respond to global challenges and/or require the combined skills, data and efforts of the world's best scientists. We call these "global research infrastructures". Such global research infrastructures will need to be planned, designed, constructed and operated in an international collaborative framework in order to share costs and avoid unnecessary duplication. Some examples from the ESFRI Roadmap are ICOS: Integrated Carbon observation System; LIFEWATCH: protection, management and sustainable use of biodiversity; SKA: Square Kilometre Array; CLARIN: infrastructure for language resources; ELIXIR: upgrade of the European life-science infrastructure for biological information.
Global projects form a league of their own and moving them forward requires a worldwide coordinated effort on issues such as:
a) R&D. For many projects there are still R&D issues that may prove a stumbling block for their construction, and require global efforts to solve them in the most effective way (both scientifically and economically). These R&D efforts must also include issues of data management and e-infrastructure.
b) Governance and legal issues. As for the R&D issues, the global projects need to converge on issues such as the governance structure that satisfies all the interested parties, or the setting up of a legal entity acceptable internationally, or site selection. At present ad hoc arrangements are made, but there is no general process or agreed methodology that can be followed.
Financing. The realisation of global projects requires the commitment of enormous resources over long periods of time, both for their construction and for their operation, upgrades and ultimately decommissioning. Alignment of funding cycles and release of construction funds from different partners is not in the hands of the scientific communities, but rather in those of their governments or funding agencies, and requires coordination at the highest policy-making level.
A success would be for the EU to reach by 2012 an agreement with international partners on a concerted approach for the development of global research infrastructures. Ideally, this agreement might propose a framework to examine and discuss current and future initiatives for new global Research Infrastructures, to reach a common understanding on issues such as governance, funding and management of large scale research infrastructures, to explore the most appropriate forms for realising such projects and to monitor the implementation of and access to the agreed new facilities. This agreement might also include the provisions for setting-up a Forum where senior policy-makers could meet and explore possible cooperation needs. Its existence could save a lot of time during negotiations and would facilitate the creation of new global research infrastructures.
The European Commission is best placed to move forward to address this issue, in consultation and cooperation with Member States. The first step in this direction has already been taken by setting up the European Expert Group on Cost Control and Management Issues of Global Research Infrastructures in 2010. In consultation also with experts from interested non-European countries, the Expert Group has produced a report and recommendations based on best practice that will form the basis of future work on these issues. Other important issues such as the management of scientific data at international level will need to be tackled in a similar way, in cooperation with Member States and other relevant countries.
Although Member States will remain key actors in the field of Research Infrastructures, the new TFEU allows the European Commission to take initiatives ensuring an efficient coordination of the EU activities at international level, allowing the EU to speak with a single voice. Such initiatives would be at least at three levels:
- Based on the work already carried out by the European Expert Group on Cost Control and Management Issues, as well as on ongoing activities by the OECD GSF, development of the necessary background work, e.g. on developing guidelines for cost and schedule control of large-scale international Research Infrastructures, effective management, or quantitative indicators for their impact at socio-economic level;
- Strong support to a group of Senior Officials, which will examine and discuss current and future initiatives for new global Research Infrastructures, in order to reach a common understanding on issues such as governance, funding and management of large scale research infrastructures;
- To explore the possible setting-up of a Forum where senior policy-makers can meet informally and explore possible cooperation needs. Its existence could save a lot of time during future negotiations and would facilitate the creation of new global research infrastructures.