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Ten years of the European Research Council: A European success story

9 Mar 2017

Press release

Imagine developing new anticancer therapies or tackling Parkinson’s disease? Or discovering Earth-like worlds in outer space? Can research develop batteries that make our mobile devices last longer? This is the type of cutting-edge research that the EU is promoting through the European Research Council (ERC), set up ten years ago. Some 7,000 top researchers have been supported in Europe to expand the frontiers of our knowledge and draw us nearer to the solutions. Many already led to breakthroughs.

The ERC, established by the EU to support excellent researchers in Europe, has backed scores of them, including six who later received Nobel Prizes. ERC grants also created career opportunities for some 50,000 research staff, resulted in numerous scientific breakthroughs and led to over 800 patent applications that lay the foundations for growth and jobs, and the improvement of people's daily lives.

For example, Deniz Kirik at Lund University in Sweden developed a promising gene therapy for Parkinson's disease. Valeria Nicolosi at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland created batteries that last even 5,000 times longer, using two-dimensional materials. And astronomer Michaël Gillon at the University of Liège, Belgium, discovered potentially inhabitable planets orbiting another star that recently made news worldwide. The ERC believed in their ideas and encouraged them to follow their scientific curiosity; there are countless other examples that help putting Europe on the map.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the ERC, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas said: "When the European Union acts boldly, wonderful things happen. The European Research Council, part of the EU's Horizon 2020 programme, is proof of it. In its first ten years, the ERC has funded almost 7,000 research champions across Europe to pursue their best ideas. Beyond the academia, innumerable people are already benefitting from the positive impact of the ERC and its funded discoveries."

The President of the ERC, Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said: "For the past ten years the European Research Council has supported high-quality research projects proposed by ambitious scientists. Their endeavours have a positive impact on thousands across Europe. ERC grants led to many scientific breakthroughs, such as the recent discovery of potentially inhabitable planets beyond the solar system. There is ample proof that the ERC is fulfilling the mission it was given to make Europe the place to be for the world's best brains."

To mark the tenth anniversary, research institutions and national authorities in Europe will hold various events during the "ERC Week" from 13 to 19 March 2017. Celebrations will also take place throughout 2017 and around the world, in the USA, India, Japan and other countries.

Among more than 100 events, there will be citizens’ science experiments at the Tate Gallery in London, a 'citizens' dialogue' session with Commissioner Carlos Moedas and Nobel laureate and ERC grantee Jean-Marie Lehn in Strasbourg, an exhibition at the Madrid Science and Technology Museum, and an ERC celebration with European Parliament President Antonio

Tajani in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Communities. The ERC Week will conclude with a scientific conference and celebration in Brussels on 21 March.

Background

The ERC is a flagship component of Horizon 2020, the EU’s programme for research and innovation. It was set up by the EU in 2007 to fund excellent scientists and their most creative ideas. It supports cutting-edge 'blue sky' research in all fields, and helps Europe keep and attract the best researchers of any nationality.

Facts and figures

  • Location: Brussels, Belgium
  • Budget: €13 billion (2014-2020) entirely funded by the Horizon 2020, the EU Programme for Research, Science and Innovation
  • 1st pillar of the Horizon 2020 programme under the responsibility of Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
  • ERC President: Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon
  • ERC governing body: independent Scientific Council with 22 eminent scientists and scholars

General features

  • Three grant schemes - Starting Grants (up to €1.5 million), Consolidator Grants (up to €2 million) and Advanced Grants (up to €2.5 million), as well as top-up innovation funding (Proof of Concept)
  • Funding schemes set up "for scientists, by scientists"
  • Open to researchers of any nationality, age and gender, from anywhere in the world, to perform research in Europe
  • Long-term, individual grants for ground-breaking, high-risk/high-gain research
  • No thematic priorities; any field of research (life sciences, physical sciences & engineering, social sciences & humanities)
  • Bottom-up, curiosity-driven approach
  • Selection solely on the basis of scientific excellence, through international peer review

Key achievements after 10 years

  • Researchers: nearly 7,000 grantees and >50,000 team members, mostly PhD students and post-docs, funded with €12 billion.
  • The majority of these 7,000 ERC winners are less than 40 years old
  • >70 per cent of completed projects led to discoveries or major advances
  • 6 Nobel Prizes, 4 Fields Medals and dozens of important prizes awarded to ERC grantees
  • 100,000 articles published in scientific journals, including >5,500 articles in the 1% most cited scientific journals. In 2014, Europe surpassed the US for the first time in this respect, and ERC grantees contributed to this.
  • Global recognition: ERC highly praised by the scientific community also beyond Europe
  • 9 countries signed international agreements with the Commission to allow short-term visits for their non-European researchers to ERC projects
  • >180 researchers moved to Europe with the ERC grant, of which most are returning Europeans
  • National research funding: 8 countries set up national research councils inspired by the ERC model; 17 countries adapted their funding to follow or to complement ERC competitions
  • Innovation: ERC projects led to >800 patent applications and >75 new ventures

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