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ELM News ImageEuropean Research Council will benefit European scientific excellence

The European Research Council, the first pan-European funding organisation to support frontier research across all fields of science and scholarship is now a reality. The formal act of establishment has been adopted by the European Commission and the first call for proposals, focused on researchers early on in their careers, has been launched, offering nearly €300m of direct grants in 2007. By inviting the most original minds to push the boundaries of current knowledge, the ERC can open the way for new discoveries that can help Europe answer its pressing social, environmental and economic challenges. With a total budget of €7.5 billion over the next 7 years, the ERC will support the best research in Europe. A conference to be held in Berlin on 27 and 28 February will mark the official inauguration of the ERC.

"With the ERC, we are moving into a new era of European support to scientific research" said European Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potočnik. "Some of the greatest scientific discoveries and advances in knowledge have come from giving great ideas the space and time to flourish. This is what we want to achieve with the ERC."

For the first time, the European Union will have a dedicated funding instrument for frontier research, under the guidance of eminent members of the European science community, and offering support to the best ideas, irrespective of geographical origin and not organised in predetermined themes.

The ERC has been established by the Ideas programme of the Seventh Framework Programme as an autonomous entity under the independent scientific leadership of a Scientific Council made up of 22 renowned high level scientists from across Europe and chaired by Professor Fotis Kafatos of Imperial College London. The members of Scientific Council come from a variety of scientific and scholarly backgrounds. The main role of the Scientific Council is to define the strategy of the ERC and oversee its scientific management.

Following the adoption of the Seventh Framework Programme, and the Ideas Specific Programme at the end of 2006, the European Commission has taken the steps necessary to formalise the European Research Council and its Scientific Council in European law. A first call for proposals was launched on 22 December 2006. Under this call, grants of up to €2 million will be awarded for five years to the most promising up-coming researchers (who have attained their PhDs in recent years). In the following years, the Starting Independent Researcher Grant scheme will continue and will be supplemented by the Advanced Investigator Grant scheme, open to researchers at all career stages.

Our societies and economies depend increasingly on research at the frontiers of knowledge. Even the most practical everyday items which we take for granted, such as refrigerators or televisions, incorporate discoveries from scientific work undertaken to expand our understanding of the world around us, not necessarily to develop a product or process. Frontier research is also a crucial asset for Europe in maintaining and advancing its global position.

The ERC will be officially inaugurated at a conference in Berlin on 27 and 28 February. This conference is jointly organised by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and the German Research Foundation (DFG). It will be attended by German Chancellor and President of the European Council Angela Merkel, as well as Commissioner Potočnik, ERC President Fotis Kafatos, members of the Scientific Council and other high level representatives of the European scientific community. There will also be a full media programme alongside the conference.