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Simple rules are key to promoting innovation - Prof. Maria da Graça Carvalho

Bureaucracy and complex rules can be a significant barrier to innovation and to new ideas, says Professor Maria Da Graça Carvalho. Image © European Parliament
Bureaucracy and complex rules can be a significant barrier to innovation and to new ideas, says Professor Maria Da Graça Carvalho. Image © European Parliament

The European Research Area (ERA) is taking shape in the community of researchers who collaborate across Europe, and it’s thanks to the Framework Programmes, according to Professor Maria da Graça Carvalho, a former MEP who was instrumental in simplifying the rules of Horizon 2020.

What has the role of the Framework Programmes been in helping to build the ERA?

‘I see the ERA as a bottom-up process and an evolving process. The Framework Programmes are probably the most powerful tool for building the ERA. We are not starting from scratch though. Every researcher knows the other researchers in their field and they are used to working with each other and exchanging ideas. There is a strong link and this process was initiated by the Framework Programmes.’

What are your experiences of the Framework Programmes and what changes have you seen in that time?

‘I participated in the First Framework Programme. I was working at the time as a postdoc at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, after my PhD at Imperial College, UK. Up until I became a minister in 2003, when I stopped my direct research activities, I always worked on projects financed by the Framework Programmes.

‘Moreover, I have vast experience as an evaluator. I was chair of the Marie Curie panel for engineering and physics for six years. And I was a national delegate in many programmes, so I have a lot of experience, as a researcher and as a minister.

‘With the passing of time you could see each Framework Programme becoming more and more administratively and financially complicated.’

Why have you focused so squarely on simplification during the preparation of Horizon 2020?

‘Bureaucracy and complex rules can be a significant barrier to innovation and to new ideas.

‘The Member States have different bureaucracies from the Commission and in order to build the ERA it is important to align the different national research systems. But joining together different bureaucracies can lead to a chaotic system. The EU really needs to simplify and the Member States need to follow this example as most of the Member States have more complex systems than the Commission.’

‘In order that we can combine efforts you really need to have simple rules.’

Prof. Maria da Graça Carvalho, former MEP

Have the rules and regulations been simplified enough in Horizon 2020?

‘I think that, in terms of simplification, Horizon 2020 is quite balanced and represents a step forward. Now it is important to keep this up during its implementation. I know public administration well, I am a public servant myself, and the tendency of public administrations is to verify, verify, verify. That’s a good tendency, but there is the risk that with time things start to become complex again. To avoid this, an assessment of the simplification procedure should be carried out during the mid-term review of Horizon 2020.’

What else needs to be done for the ERA?

‘It’s very important to make mobility easier, both in terms of the portability of grants and the portability of pension schemes.

‘We also need to have more alignment among the Member States. This does not mean that Member States should have the same research agendas, but they should discuss their agendas together and look for ways to build bridges.

‘There are many areas where the Member States and the Commission should work together. A good example is rare diseases. Member States should join forces with the Commission on this. Research will advance much more quickly if efforts are combined. This constitutes a concrete example of how the ERA can be strengthened.’