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Jacek Gierlinski: Research Infrastructure Roadmaps: National versus European
July 22nd, 2009 / 0 Comments » /

The European Perspective

The ESFRI Roadmap 2008, and its predecessor of 2006, contributed significantly to creation of a long term vision for development of large research infrastructures in Europe.  In consequence:

  • knowledge regarding EU's wide needs for research infrastructure was considerably enhanced;
  • a number of scientific communities have joined forces in order to execute several large infrastructure projects;
  • some elements of coordination and some limited funding was introduced into the efforts to build pan-European facilities, via the Capacity programme of the 7th Framework Programme.


The roadmap has also contributed to formulation of new challenges.

First, it become apparent that in Europe geographical distribution of existing infrastructures and those to be built in the near future is greatly imbalanced. In particular, lack of such infrastructures in New Member States become plainly apparent, threatening harmonious development of the European Research Area (ERA) and posing a risk to a key goal of full utilisation of European research potential. In an attempt to address this issue ESFRI established the Regional Issues Working Group, which is specifically dealing with this topic. The report published by the Group in March 2009 took more detailed stock of the situation in some of these countries. It is worth noting here that the phrase 'regional partner facility', coined by the Group, was mentioned in a positive context in the European Council conclusions of June 2008.

Secondly, it was realised that the process of international negotiations aiming to establish a concept of pan-European facilities is a very slow and difficult one. Here a resolute response came from the European Commission.  A dedicated legal instrument, the European Research Infrastructure (ERI), was elaborated and will be available for the use in the near future.  However, in order to make a real impact this instrument should be accompanied by an increased funding from the EC, constituting a meaningful part of the overall costs - both during construction and operation phases. It would also be particularly beneficial during this period of financial turbulence to see increased access to other sources of funding, such as grants from Structural Funds or loans from the European Investment Bank.

Finally, the European roadmap exposed a certain vacuum regarding coordination for research infrastructures at the country and regional levels. Consequently, a process of development of national and thematic roadmaps was invigorated, opening a prospect for improved EU - national coordination.

National Perspectives

With a few notable exceptions, the development of national roadmaps for research infrastructure was triggered by the emergence of the European roadmap. The need for such roadmaps was particularly prominent in the less research-intensive countries: one of the greatest concerns for the future of the ERA is a lack of adequate infrastructure in these countries.

On the one hand these countries are showing considerable interest in participating in the projects from the ESFRI Roadmap.  They contribute scientific know-how, manpower and financial resources to over twenty-five projects (Poland alone is active in a dozen projects, for example). It is needless to say that scientists from these countries highly value opportunities of being involved as contributors to the forefront of research.

On the other hand, confronted with the reality that large, single-site facilities require enormous investment from host countries, often exceeding a billion Euros, it is realised that such investments are beyond the reach of countries engaged in major efforts to modernise their research base. One of the solutions may lie in the construction of smaller regional or national facilities, either as 'stand-alones' or as partners to a large facility. Such regional facilities, while capable of contributing to  research at the highest level, would certainly require less up-front investment. Furthermore, they would contribute locally, helping to increase the high-tech character of the region, its economy and the society. In addition, they could be a valuable partner to the larger facility, reducing the cost of experimental preparation and helping to train young scientists.

Aiming to develop a vision for national or regional facilities requires careful planning and multi-lateral coordination. Such activity, usually considered through the creation of a national roadmap, requires reconciliation of a number of features.  Therefore, while constructing such a national roadmap several aspects should be  dealt with specifically:

Firstly, as initial steps:

  • the national science policy goals with respect to research infrastructure should be formulated;
  • the scale and availability of financial resources, commensurate with these goals, should be defined.


Secondly, facilities included in the roadmap, after an appropriate selection process, should demonstrate

  • broad agreement with the national science policy goals;
  • the scope for outstanding research executed by several research groups located in different institutions;
  • an ability to provide open and easy access to researchers, both national and international, on a 'best science' basis;
  • a balance between the whole-of-life costs (investment for construction and operation) and use for research;
  • an identified scope for involvement at pan-European, regional or international levels.


Thirdly, based on analysis of the needs against the available resources:

  • a scope for construction of new or major extension of an existing facility should be identified,
  • strategic prioritisation and timescale should be provided.

Finally, this process should anticipate the update of the roadmap at regular intervals.


Having at their disposal the roadmap for large infrastructures, the scientific communities and policymakers could now focus on smaller, regional facilities.  A coordinated analysis of the national infrastructure landscapes, leading to the development of national roadmaps, and examined in the pan-European context, could be the right approach. Selected on this basis, and alongside the facilities that are clearly of national interest, the regional facilities should enjoy the privilege to become an ERI.

It is my view that several benefits should be offered to such small/medium size ERIs:

  • increased funding from the EC budget, notably from the Framework Programme and the Structural Funds, should be made available to aid the construction and operation of these facilities;
  • expertise in the management of large infrastructures, gained on the current ESFRI projects, should be transferred to regional facilities;
  • mobility programmes, aiming at encouraging the involvement of researchers from large infrastructures in regional facilities should be suitably expanded and supported by EC funding.


A vehicle to provide such coordination should be principally the European Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), supported or enhanced by other initiatives, such as RAMIRI.

Written by Jacek Gierlinski

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