ETUCE Position on a new European Research Area for Research and Innovation


Considering research for purely economic goals falls short of academic freedom and open science

On 30 September 2020, the European Commission published a Communication on A new ERA for Research and Innovation. The aim of the European Commission is to summarise the achievements of the European Research Area while celebrating its 20th year after its establishment, and present 14 initiatives to encourage more research and innovation investment, synchronize the level of quality of science in the EU, strengthen the relationship between research and industries, and achieve gender equality in research and development. The Communication also asks for more national investment to research and development to ensure the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

ETUCE’s position paper reacts to the European Commission’s initiative and underlines that re-enforcing research in Europe can be achieved by increasing public investment in public research, respect of academic freedom and freedom of research, sustainable public investment to public research, gender equality, fair working conditions, decent salary and permanent contractual status of the researchers and early stage researchers, and effective social dialogue with the researchers’ trade unions.

The COVID-19 crisis had a detrimental impact on the researchers and research in both the public and private research sectors. While their trade unions negotiated hard for employers to acknowledge that research carried out remotely during the lock-down be considered as work, still many researchers were laid off or threatened to be unemployed. ETUCE member organisations worry for those researchers who are not allowed to work remotely by their employers in the pandemic while health and safety conditions are not ensured in the workplaces. Therefore, the ERA should be strengthened with supporting the recovery of Europe from a social perspective and ensuring good working conditions for the researchers.

Ensuring public investment to public societal research is essential. Underinvestment from the public sector, business orientation, growing reform pressures to better align university outcomes and governance to the business needs, as well as financial incentives steering research and funding to business priorities undermine the freedom of researchers to conduct research without interference. It has an impact on the ability of universities as collegial bodies to foster independent basic research including in such areas as health, the environment and social sciences, providing short and long-term benefits to society and the economy.

However, the Communication pushes research more towards business orientation. We are deeply preoccupied that the upcoming ERA Forum for Transition, which will ask 5% of national public R&D funding to be allocated to joint EU programmes and European partnerships by 2030, risks reducing national investment to public research even more. Indeed, this will lead to further marketising research according tothe EU policy on the business-related research focus of the Horizon Europe programme and ERA.

We resent the European Commission’s view on the aims of the European Research Area to serve as “single market for research and innovation”. This policy turns research fully into a commodity. We recall the UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers (2017) which clearly underlines that academic freedom in relation to open communication of the results, hypotheses and opinions are the core of the scientific process. We call on the European Commission to acknowledge that considering research from an economic perspective does not at all support the principles of academic freedom and open science.

Read here the full ETUCE Statement