EU excludes researchers’ trade unions from the dialogue on the new ERA


The first week of February hosted a series of key events in the field of the new European Research Area. After having launched Horizon Europe 2021-27 on 2 February, the new framework Programme for research and innovation, the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union organised an informal virtual meeting for the ministers responsible for research and innovation (Competitiveness Council) on 3 February 2021. The Council meeting was also attended by Commissioner for education and research Mariya Gabriel, the representatives of the European Commission, the OECD, and the European Research Council.

The meeting was mainly related to the upcoming Council conclusions on providing researchers with attractive and sustainable research careers and working conditions which are expected to be adopted in the Competitiveness Council meeting on 27 May. In this context, the ministers underlined the need to improve data collection - both at national and European level - on the career and mobility of the researchers, and to review the European Charter for code of conduct to recruit researchers within one year. The meeting also aimed at discussing about strengthening alliances among European universities in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme. The Portuguese Presidency underlined the importance for the overall investment in research and development to be at least 3% of the European Union’s GDP. As outlined by the European Commission in its Communication, they expect member states to allocate 5% of national public R&D funding to joint EU programmes and European partnerships by 2030. The chair of the Council meeting, the Portuguese Minister mentioned the idea of “adopting a new European system for sustainable funding of companies in such a way that it can be associated with the continued development of research careers and investment by companies in these areas.”

As the European policy also incites more business-research partnerships, ETUCE is concerned that such policy can encourage marketisation and commercialisation in higher education and research instead of respecting academic freedom of researchers and institutional autonomy of universities. Therefore, in view of the upcoming Council Conclusions, ETUCE calls on the ministries to respect the value of academic freedom of research and the role of social dialogue with researchers on their career development and working conditions.

The Council also touched upon the ERA Forum for Transition which was launched by the European Commission the following day (4 February). The launch of the ERA Forum for Transition as a “Commission-driven forum” was announced within the European Commission’s Communication on A new ERA for Research and Innovation (2020). Its task will be to discuss about investment and governance on research and innovation at the national and European levels also in relation to the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The ERA Forum for Transition, which is composed of representatives of EU countries, is a technical expert group of the European Commission to provide advice to the Commission in relation to the preparation of the ERA governance framework and a monitoring mechanism of implementation of the EU policy on ERA.  Since its first meeting on 4 February, the expert group will continue its work intensively. The expert group will contribute to develop a Pact for Research & Innovation”, expected to be launched by the European Commission in July 2021. This Pact will establish common European values and principles, as well as priority areas for R&I in Europe and mechanisms of implementation at European and national level with the support also of the European Semester.

ETUCE believes that a truly inclusive and fair new Education Research Area requires to be developed in cooperation with all relevant stakeholders, starting from involving the researchers themselves in the governance. ETUCE regrets that social dialogue with researchers’ trade unions on the new ERA is lacking and urges the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency to include social partners in all key decision for the future development of the European Research Area.

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