In a challenging global context, research infrastructures are key strategic assets for Europe

June 7, 2024
General news Governance Belgian presidency ERIC Forum ESFRI European Commission policymakers Strategy

The Conference on Research Infrastructures, organised by the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, took place on June 4-5 in Brussels at the Royal Library of Belgium. The event aimed to put "Research Infrastructures in a Changing Global, Environmental and Socio-economical Context" by focusing on three main paths of reflection: research infrastructures as crucial players of strategic autonomy in a changing global context, the socioeconomic and environmental impact of research infrastructures and the broad ecosystems of RIs. Director General John Eriksson, Bio-Hub Section and current ERIC Forum Chair Antje Keppler represented Euro-BioImaging at the event.

Director General John Eriksson highlights Euro-BioImaging strengths and transnational user access to services at the Conference on Research Infrastructures on June 4-5 in Brussels. (photo: Antje Keppler)

In a challenging and fast-evolving global context, research infrastructures are key strategic assets for Europe, reminded Anna Panagopoulou, Director of DG Research & Innovation at the European Commission, during her keynote speech at the event. Research infrastructures can accelerate the European digital and environmental transition, create massive socioeconomic value and impact from knowledge, boost European competitiveness and keep the EU at the forefront of science and innovation.

Increasing collaboration between research infrastructures and the industry could drastically accelerate European competitiveness and maintain Europe's technological advantage on the global stage. By providing access to their services and technology, research infrastructures have the potential to facilitate crucial industry advancements. In the current political and economic global context, it becomes a vital strategic interest to match industry and research infrastructures and unleash their collaborative powers. In that regard, Euro-BioImaging is already building active bridges with European SMEs through initiatives like "Enhancing SME Access to European Research and Technology Infrastructures: A Pathway to Innovation & Growth", a workshop gathering representatives from research infrastructures, SMEs, Member States, national funders, and the European Commission to foster collaborations in strategic domains. The workshop is taking place in Brussels on June 7, in the wake of the Belgian Conference on Research Infrastructures.

Establishing a financing model for the long-term sustainability of RIs is a key concern, said Anna Panagopoulou. To navigate the future confidently, European research infrastructures must be given the necessary financial capacity to adapt and build their resilience. This is not just a need but a crucial requirement to maintain the continuity of European research and its impact on society. Ensuring the financial sustainability of research infrastructures is a critical issue for Europe. The recently published landscape analysis by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) reflects the correlation between the latest research infrastructure developments and the mounting needs to address pressing issues in Europe. European research infrastructures are a common good essential for Europe, and their operational future must be secured. 

Member states, national funders, the European Commission, the European Parliament and research infrastructures must initiate a concerted discussion to explore new funding models to support new and necessary operational costs, finance increased needs for transnational access, and find ways to face a surge in service requests. Increasing collaboration with the industry is highlighted as an asset, and industry access to cutting-edge research infrastructures is recognised as a key driver of research and innovation. Euro-BioImaging has drafted a position paper (available soon) on the topic, focusing on access, a central notion for making industry and research infrastructure work better together. 

Several ERICs were invited on stage to present a brief 3-minute talk about one challenge and one positive experience during the event. Director General John Eriksson highlighted Euro-BioImaging's journey, highlighting fast member growth -Euro-BioImaging currently has 19 members- and ambitious plans for trans-national access services. Remote access services have been an important operational asset for research infrastructures during the 2020 pandemic, demonstrating Europe’s capacity to keep powering research in a particularly adverse context. Since then, remote access services have faced numerous challenges, such as a lack of awareness and the need for funding. However, recent INFRASERV projects like ISIDORe, CanSERV and AgroSERV have provided significant support for researchers and visibility for remote services. These three projects have enabled impactful collaborations across life sciences with high user satisfaction. John Eriksson concluded that Euro-BioImaging and similar ERICs and RIs are at the core of European competitiveness, providing unparalleled global access to infrastructure excellence. John Eriksson emphasised the need for ESFRI to boost the community awareness of this competitiveness and for the Commission to develop strong models to support infrastructure access.

Antje Keppler, talking as the ERIC Forum Chair at the Conference on Research Infrastructures, organised by the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Unione on June 4-5 in Brussels at the Royal Library of Belgium. (photo: Claudia Alén Amaro / Instruct ERIC)

Euro-BioImaging Bio-Hub Section Director Antje Keppler, who spoke as the ERIC Forum Chair, highlighted the collaborative efforts deployed by the 28 European Research Infrastructure Consortium and the common challenges they are facing. She emphasised the need for better recognition of the ERICs, streamlined funding programs, and enhanced sustainability. ERICs are crucial European research and strategy enablers, with robust governance models and ever-increasing country-level participation with high stakeholder engagement. To support the full participation of the ERICs in EU Framework Programmes, Antje Keppler called for strengthening and utilising the ERIC ecosystem through improved funding models, greater visibility of the infrastructure's achievements, and by establishing a continuous dialogue between ERICs and policy-makers for their fact-based governance.

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