The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) – an expert group bringing together the European Commission, the EU Member States and the Associated Countries to the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon Europe (2021–2027), which addresses the key issues of the European research infrastructure policy-making – held virtually its 82nd meeting on 12th–13th December 2022. This time, ESFRI paid attention in particular to the political documents that had been negotiated and adopted during the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second semester of 2022. Thus, ESFRI focused primarily on the Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures, which had been approved by the EU Research Ministers at the EU Competitiveness Council on 2nd December 2022. Against this background, the Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures have become the political orientations for further advancement of the European research infrastructure ecosystem, and they bring a number of challenges and tasks to deal with also to ESFRI.
Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures
Research infrastructures were among the top priority areas of the research policy agenda of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU. The Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures highlight the essential role of research infrastructures as an instrument for achieving knowledge-based solutions to grand societal and economic challenges of European and global relevance. They invite EU stakeholders to ensure relevant conditions for the long-term sustainable development of research infrastructures. They emphasize the need for further convergence of the research infrastructure policy-making on one hand with other sectorial policies on the other one. They call for enhancement of the digital dimension of European research infrastructures. They point out the importance of international cooperation of research infrastructures at the global level. They also identify research infrastructures as a part of the European innovation ecosystem and the EU’s critical infrastructure, contributing to strengthening the EU’s competitiveness, resilience, post-pandemic recovery, as well as the green and digital transition of the European economy.
ESFRI Roadmap Update
The first of the key areas that ESFRI will deal with in the coming years is the ESFRI Roadmap update set for 2025. It will be preceded by a thorough monitoring of the landscape of research infrastructures in Europe. Its aim will be to identify both the potential for closer interdisciplinary cooperation between already existing European research infrastructures, as well as the definition of thematic areas in which Europe doesn’t operate research infrastructures yet and which could thus be reflected by brand new projects. Another important question, to be addressed by ESFRI, will be the long-term sustainability of research infrastructures, which will be addressed in the second semester of 2023, among other things, by the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU. Last but not least, ESFRI will also pay attention to socioeconomic benefits and impacts of investments in research infrastructures. These will be reflected in the ESFRI’s monitoring practice of the European research infrastructures’ implementation and their performance.
Update of the European research infrastructures’ regulatory framework
The Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures also bring a number of measures to update the regulatory framework for the operation of European research infrastructures. In 2023, the European Commission will focus on updating the European Charter for Access to Research Infrastructures. At the same year – in close cooperation with ESFRI and other European research infrastructure stakeholders – the European Commission will also assess the experience with the current implementation of the EU legal framework for the establishment of European Research Infrastructure Consortia (ERIC). So far, 25 ERIC consortia have been set-up in Europe with many more in the process of being established. Czechia has been participating in 16 of them through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and relevant large research infrastructures.
The Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures (pdf), together with the Brno Declaration on Fostering a Global Ecosystem of Research Infrastructures (pdf), determine the political directions to further develop the research infrastructure ecosystem in the EU. The activities of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU will be followed up by Sweden and Spain, which have also set research infrastructures as one of their priorities, as the incoming Presidency countries.