In September 2000, the EC and the ESF jointly organised the first international conference on Research Infrastructures and their role in implementing the ERA vision. This conference highlighted the key roles that availability and accessibility of world class Research Infrastructures play in facilitating frontier science and innovation. One of the results of the Strasbourg RI Conference was the invitation that the Council of Ministers extended in June 2001 to the Commission, in close collaboration with the Member States, to explore the need for new arrangements to support policies related to Research Infrastructures.
Therefore Member States agreed on setting up a European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) "to support a coherent and strategy-led approach to policy making on Research Infrastructures in Europe and to facilitate multilateral initiatives leading to a better use and development of Research Infrastructures."
This stemmed from the visible shortcomings of the European Research Area to adequately respond to the new emerging research needs to tailor the existing Research Infrastructures to the requirements of new disciplines and to do all this in a coordinated and more effective manner. These issues have been addressed by the Council conclusions on the role of Infrastructures in the European Research Area from 2001.
The Commission working document "European Research Area for Infrastructures" and the setting up of the ESFRI marked the recognition of the need to adopt a European approach to Research Infrastructures and outlined the priority actions to be undertaken, namely promoting a better exploitation of the existing Research Infrastructures, combining efforts and resources for the construction of new Research Infrastructures, and establishing a Europe-wide advice and policy-making process.
In the 7th Framework Programme for RTD, Research Infrastructures (RI), as a prerequisite for innovation and excellence in research, play a special role. Still - when looking at the geographical distribution of Research Infrastructures in Europe - it becomes clear that most of these world-class facilities are located in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, followed by Switzerland and Scandinavia. In this future-oriented context, Central, East, and South-East Europe do not play a significant role as host countries that either corresponds to, or reflects, their capacity or potential. Moreover, the EU's enlargement has exacerbated economic and social disparities across the EU. By mobilizing the growth potential of all regions, the EU Cohesion Policy intends to overcome the economic disparities, to improve the geographical balance of economic development and thus raise the potential rate of growth of the Union as a whole.
The project's concept implies a strong interaction between the project consortium and ESFRI, the European Research Advisory Board (ERAB), and the European Science Foundation (ESF). Moreover, the project consortium intends to establish an External Advisory Board containing a wide spectrum of expertise and experience in RI policy making, funding, construction and operation. At the stage of proposal development, the concept builds upon the following previous actions:
- The EC JRC action Study of the Socio-Economic Impact of the Spatial Data
- Infrastructure in the region of Catalunya: Executive Summary;
- The study Socio Economic Benefits of ITER in Spain;
- The ForeIntegra project Integrating Foresight in Research Infrastructures' Policy Formulation;
- The ERID-Watch (European Research Infrastructure Development Watch) project.
- The project team will network, and seek further synergies with, ongoing relevant actions in the field of RIs, RI policy formulation modes, including the ESFRI Working Groups as well as foresight actions and the actions suggested for support by the ESFRI Roadmap.
Generally the project aims at developing an integrated framework for the identification of RI investment opportunities and methods for S-E impact assessment of new RIs. More specifically three distinct objectives will be pursued that contribute to this goal:
- (a) Developing RIAM (the Research infrastructure Impact Assessment Methodology and measurement criteria) for the S-E impact assessment of new RIs
- (b) Testing and improving the elaborated methodology
For validating RIAM several case studies of RIs located at the outskirts of the current borders of the EU will be analyzed. The proposed geographical context of the project is South East Europe (new Member States), Trieste (Slovenian border and thus border between old and new Member States) and a small island at the edge of the EU (i.e. La Palma in the Canary Islands).
The decision about the particular entities to be studied will be taken during the project on the basis of a more detailed analysis. They will however include four to six cases selected from the following list:
- two proposed pan-European RIs: ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure), which Romania is willing to host; and EURO-ARGO, which will have strong Bulgarian participation, moreover, in the case of ELI, the Project coordinator and each of the site applicants will be associated to the undertaking of the case study;
- the Free Electron Laser FERMI@Elettra, currently under construction in Trieste, financed by national funds and an EIB loan while set up in an international cooperation;
- a regional interest RI (e.g. "Danube Delta" Institute);
- The extremely large telescopes in a remote region of Spain, the Island of La Palma;
- 1-2 national RIs in Romania & Bulgaria.