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October 09, 2007

Elvis in Lisbon

With the first day of the European Research Area conference under way here in Lisbon, two major themes seem to be emerging: breaking down bureaucracy and the wisdom of Elvis Presley.

The two may not be naturally linked but several of the day's speakers seemed to think we would do well to heed the advice of the King. Early in the day we were told that "a little less conversation a bit more action" is needed to bring the aspirations of the ERA to fruition and in the afternoon Luke Georgiou reminded us that "it's now or never" for Europe if we aim to keep up with the US and our mysterious new rival "Chindia".

However, as much as everyone seems keen to cut the red tape and take the ERA to the next phase, each new objection to the current direction seems to open a new can of worms. We want to more coordination in our research efforts but fear homogenisation. We want to compete but can't agree on whether our main competitor should be the US or each other. We want to find someone to blame for the slow progress being made on the ERA but can't decide between the commission and the member states.

One person who found no difficulty in choosing his scapegoat on this last point was Enric Banda of Euroscience. “Stop blaming the commission every time something goes wrong” he told us. Instead, we should urge the member states to take a more “mature” view of the ERA and accept that compromise is inevitable at some stage.

Despite the intricacies, the sense of urgency seems to be shared by all. Janez Potočnik warned the conference that we simply could not be having these same arguments in five year’s time and there was very little dissent amongst his audience on this point. Most seem agreed on one or two major issues such as supporting researcher mobility within Europe, attracting talent from outside the community and pushing for greater private investment in R&D (although how this last goal is to be achieved is another sore spot).

Tomorrow we hear from the French Minister for Higher Education and Research and get told not to step on her blue suede shoes.

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