Since ERA was introduced as a political objective in 2000, progress has been made through the Open Method of Coordination in CREST, successive Framework Programmes (FPs) and, following the 2007 Green paper, the ERA Partnership initiatives and the Ljubljana Process. Specific legislation has been adopted and a significant body of soft law (Council Conclusions, Resolutions, etc.) has also been produced. However, it is clear that the size, performance, efficiency and integration of the EU's research system must increase rapidly if it is to be commensurate with EU aspirations for global S&T leadership and excellence and knowledge-based competitiveness as well as to satisfy the socio-economic imperatives of its citizens, as set out in the Europe 2020 strategy. The European Research Area is also an integral part of the ambition to turn the European Union into a true Innovation Union. Increasing research investment, scientific quality and relevance are crucial to develop new knowledge-intensive products and services that hold the key to growth and jobs.
Completion of ERA is central to this strategy for economic reform, and thus to its Innovation Union flagship. The Innovation Union commitment n°4 states that in 2012 "the Commission will propose an ERA Framework and supporting measures to remove obstacles to mobility and cross-border co-operation, aiming for them to be in force by end 2014". The European Council of 4 February 2011 endorsed the objective of completing ERA by 2014. The role of the European Research Area in Europe's drive for competitiveness is also highlighted in the Compact for Growth and Jobs agreed at the European Council of 28/29June 2012.
In order to work towards this objective set by the Heads of State, the strengthened legal basis for ERA in the Lisbon Treaty could be exploited. The new Treaty identifies ERA as a mean to achieve the objective of strengthening the EU's scientific and technological basis.
In this new and evolving legal and policy context, and building on progress to date in Council and the European Council, it is clear that the ERA Framework should result in a new, comprehensive and strategic approach to completing ERA and bring the ERA partnership to a higher and more effective level.
The Commission proposals to achieve the European Research Area focus on five key priorities where progress needs to be made:
- increased effectiveness of national research systems
improved trans-national cooperation and competition including establishing and effectively operating key research infrastructures
a more open labour market for researchers
gender equality and mainstreaming in organisations carrying out and selecting research projects and
optimal circulation and transfer of scientific information, including via digital means and broader and more rapid access to scientific publications and data.
For each priority, the Communication identifies concrete steps to be taken by Member States, stakeholder organisations and the European Commission, working together within a reinforced partnership.