The Commission’s revised FP7 proposals provide for EUR 7 510 million for an 'Ideas' programme that aims to enhance dynamism, creativity and excellence in European research at the frontier of knowledge by supporting ’investigator-driven’ research projects across all fields by individual teams competing at a European level. Projects will be funded based on proposals presented by researchers on subjects of their choice, evaluated on scientific excellence by peer review.
The Ideas programme proposes a trans-European mechanism to support creative scientific research designed to generate new knowledge that opens up new avenues for technological progress and new solutions for social and environmental problems. This ’frontier research’, which will be at the heart of the Ideas programme, is a new approach to basic research that is, by virtue of its nature, risky and cuts across established disciplinary boundaries and national borders.
A European Research Council to support basic, frontier research
By promoting “frontier research”, the Specific Programme will aim to put European research in a leading position, opening the way to creating new scientific and technological results and probably unexpected results.
The programme proposes the setting up of a European Research Council (ERC), composed of a Scientific Council and a dedicated organisation to implement EU frontier research activities. Research areas covered will be independent of the thematic orientations of other parts of the Framework Programme, and will include engineering, social sciences and the humanities.
The Scientific Council is responsible for the governance of the ERC and consists of 22 representatives of the European scientific community at the highest level, nominated by the Commission following the final report [PDF] of the independent ERC Identification Committee chaired by former European Commissioner Lord Patten of Barnes (see also Interim Report on 21 March 2005 [PDF]).
The ERC Scientific Council has elected Professor Fotis Kafatos as its Chairman and Professor Helga Nowotny and Dr. Daniel Estève as Vice-Chairs. It has also gone on to recruit the first two Secretaries General of the ERC, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker (Jan 2007 – June 2009) and Professor Andreu Mas-Colell (July 2009 – Dec 2011).
The European Parliament has welcomed the creation of the ERC but has suggested it become an independent structure (possibly as an Article 171 initiative) following a brief transition phase after its launch as an Executive Agency. The Commission’s revised FP7 proposals incorporate important clarifications of the term of office, the renewal and the role of the Scientific Council, the management and staffing arrangements of the ERC, and an independent review of the ERC no later than 2010.
The amended proposals of 28 June 2006 also allow for the ERC to conduct its own strategic studies for the preparation and support of its operational activities. The ERC’s Scientific Council has already published its outline strategy for the launch of the ERC [PDF] providing details of how it hopes to stimulate investigator-initiated frontier research across all scientific fields, on the basis of excellence.
The launch strategy refers to two funding streams, operating on a 'bottom up' basis across all research fields, to be the core of the ERC's operations for the duration of FP7. Priority will first be given to an ERC Starting Independent Research Grant [PDF] scheme, aiming to provide support to the independent careers of excellent researchers at the stage of establishing their first research team or pursuing independent research for the first time. A second funding stream, the Advanced Investigator Research Grant scheme, will be established as soon as feasible thereafter. The Scientific Council says that one-third of the ERC's overall annual budget (approximately EUR 300-350 million per year) will be earmarked for some 200 Starting Independent Research Grants.