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We need to strengthen research, restore confidence in it and create a more effective European Research Area

On 19 July 2021, Minister of Education, Science and Sport Dr Simona Kustec hosted a full-day informal meeting of ministers responsible for research at Brdo pri Kranju.

"A resilient and competitive Europe must strengthen research and innovation and place it at the center of our society. This means we must put in place sound conditions for researchers and innovators to encourage the circulation of knowledge, while providing top-quality infrastructure and enabling and promoting integration and cooperation with higher education, with the needs of society and the economy, and above all involve all stakeholders in the joint search for solutions," stressed the Council of the EU President, Slovenian Minister Dr Simona Kustec.

She added that commitments on paper alone were not enough and if we really want to take a decisive step forward, clear and practical measures were needed. “Under the Horizon Europe programme, the quota measure has led to a greater gender balance in the implementation of projects. A week ago, we adopted a regulation on European high performance computing, which provides support for Europe to become a global player in supercomputing and high technology. Now it is the time to adopt additional concrete goals to be followed by action at the EU and national levels. Since we want the new European Research Area to become effective for all those involved in research and innovation, the Slovenian Presidency has invited and involved all key stakeholders, representatives of the groups for which we are taking action, in all our events and activities. The Slovenian Presidency is the first to lead the governance process in this way in the context of the European dialogue. But the fact is that without the input of experts, it will be difficult for political decision-makers to set realistic goals and measures, and establish environments for the groups we are committed to through our work. At the same time, it is clear that only together can we address all the global challenges that lie ahead.”

»And only together can we build a new, more effective ERA. As the Slovenian Presidency's slogan says: Together. Resilient. Europe..« dr. Simona Kustec, Minister of Education, Science and Sport

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, who presented the Pact for Research and Innovation for the first time at the meeting, agreed with this assessment, saying "through the Pact, we have laid the foundation for effective action and called on members to invest more in research and innovation. I am pleased that today there was a strong commitment to strengthen the field of research and innovation. But the real work begins now, on the ground, in the countries. In this context, collaboration between research and the education system and raising awareness of the significance of research for society are also extremely important," stressed Commissioner Gabriel.

She congratulated Minister Kustec on the successful start of the presidency and the establishment of the governance process: "The involvement of all stakeholders and the extremely important collaboration with education, such as the Plastic Pirates project, are a great stepping stone for the new European Research Area. Together we are stronger."

The keynote speaker, the President of the European Research Council (ERC), Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, added that "resources alone are not enough, true knowledge, ideas and innovation are important. If we manage to put research in the right place, the money will follow. Nevertheless, we need a long-term vision and plan. Not just for the natural sciences, but also for the social sciences. We need to rebuild trust in science. We need to realize that without science there is no development and no progress."

In the second part of the meeting, ministers focused on the international cooperation and a global approach. Renowned Slovenian researcher Dr Maruša Bradač from the University of California pointed out that international cooperation forms the basis for any success a researcher might achieve, alongside a stimulating environment in which to work.

In their discussion the ministers acknowledged this and supported the European Commission in its global approach to innovation and research, advocating the promotion of cooperation with third countries.

Minister Kustec emphasized that the circulation of knowledge is absolutely necessary, and at the same time represents a major challenge for every society of how to bring that enriched knowledge back home. “This is the reason that the Slovenian Presidency is committed to adopting reintegration schemes that will enable better conditions for the work of researchers at home and abroad, while at the same time speeding up the development of knowledge of both researchers and the companies they work for. We know that we need to get the balance right between opening up Europe and making it more competitive in the future."

In addition to delegations from the EU, the meeting was attended by delegations from EFTA countries and Western Balkans partners.

The EU ministers responsible for research will discuss concrete measures for the ERA's new governance system at the Council of Ministers in September, when the adoption of the conclusions on the ERA is foreseen.