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The European Research Area (ERA) was first launched in 2000, with the aim to create a research landscape with a common, European dimension that is open to the world, based on the internal market and that enables the free circulation of researchers, scientific knowledge and technology. The ERA concept was officially embedded into the European policy-making process through its inclusion in Articles 179 and 182(5) of the Lisbon Treaty and the development of the first EU Communication on the ERA in 2012.

Following its initial inception, the Commission published a series of Communications, expert reports and working documents on the various dimensions of the ERA concept. The EU’s sixth Research and Innovation Framework Programme and its new instruments were particularly recognised and positioned as important vehicles to implement the ERA , with major achievements taking place during this period.

In 2015, the Member States, via the European Council, illustrated their commitment to a fully operational ERA by endorsing the ERA Roadmap 2015-2020. The goal of this Roadmap was to strengthen and improve the national focus of the ERA, by guiding EU countries on how to, in a structured manner and via national action plans, implement the ERA priorities and objectives.

Over the last two decades, a wide range of ERA-related policy reforms and initiatives have successfully been implemented, contributing towards the overarching goal of completing the ERA. Despite this, the overall progress of the ERA has been slow and many disparities between countries and regions continue to exist.

Given the moderate improvements, as well as the changing, socio-economic environment, the Commission and the Member States agreed to revisit the ERA concept and create a new ERA vision, with relevant, viable and achievable objectives and priorities.

The need to reform the existing governance framework of the ERA was identified, in September 2020, as part of the European Commission’s Communication on the new ERA. Specifically, it was underlined that the new ERA structure should:

    • Be made more effective and impactful.
    • Enable regular dialogues with the Member States to address priorities, implement strategies and monitor progress towards realising the ERA’s objectives.

The importance of reforming the governance structure was also reaffirmed in the new ERA Council Conclusions adopted in December 2020. In the Conclusions, the Council called for the creation of a governance framework driven by the following principles:

    • Inclusiveness – Involving all Member States including regional authorities, the European Committee of the Regions, R&I stakeholders and civil society, where appropriate.

    • Effectiveness – Defining a lean governance processes to develop and implement the ERA actions.

    • Coherence – Striving for more exchange and cooperation between regional, national and EU-levels to address structural issues within and outside the remit of R&I policy.

    • Efficiency – Linking up with the proposed Horizon Europe strategic planning process to enhance the alignment of EU and national R&I policies.

    • Evidence-informed approach – Providing technical and expert assistance to Member States to improve national ERA monitoring activities.

    • Relevance – Fostering a policy-driven and priority setting approach by ensuring an appropriate role for the Council through the organisation of regular policy debates and ERA Ministerial Conferences.

Following the publication of the Communication and the adoption of the Council Conclusions, Member States agreed to, by the end of 2021, develop a new ‘multi-level’ governance model to help deliver a reformed and reinvigorated ERA.

The below presentation highlights the changes introduced to the governance architecture, following the approval by Research Ministers of the Council Conclusions on the new ERA governance structure on the 26th of November 2021.

In line with the drive to build a strong European economy capable of competing in an increasingly globalised work, the Europe 2020 Strategy, launched in 2010, called for the completion of the European Research Area (ERA) through the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative, thus reconfirming Europe’s commitment to the achievement of a unified area where knowledge and information flows freely and where talent is nurtured and knowledge exploited for the benefit of society and the economy.

Subsequently, the February 2014 Competitiveness Conclusions on the 2013 ERA Progress Report called for the Member States to develop an ERA Roadmap at European level by mid-2015 through the European Research & Innovation Area Committee (ERAC) in order to identify and target those top actions which would have the greatest impact and success towards the full realisation and implementation of a fully functioning ERA. Following the adoption of the ERAC Opinion on the European Research Area Roadmap 2015-2020, a further set of Council Conclusions (May 2015) on the Roadmap called on Member States to implement the top action priorities identified in the ERA Roadmap through action plans or strategies by mid-2016. The preparation of National ERA Roadmaps was encouraged and supported by ERAC within the context of Member State ownership, in order to tailor each national roadmap to the realities and priorities of the Member States. Thus while the ERA Roadmap identified EU high level priorities and top actions, it was recognised that national research and innovation systems across Europe have different characteristics and so each Member State can tailor its ERA Roadmap to its own needs.

Malta’s National ERA Roadmap is a complementary document to the National Research and Innovation Strategy and Action Plan 2020. Malta’s R&I Strategy reiterates Malta’s commitment to the achievement of a well-functioning European Research Area, recognising that this represents an opportunity to capitalise on the strength of the single market. Therefore, several of the ERA priorities are already echoed in the National Strategy and have been translated into actions which fit Malta’s contextual framework. Thus, in a sense, Malta’s R&I Strategy already provided a lot of the context for the preparation of Malta’s National ERA Roadmap.

Nonetheless, in 2016, the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST), the body responsible for the drafting of the Strategy, Action Plan and ERA Roadmap, engaged with key stakeholders and the delegates on the ERA-related groups, to ensure a concerted approach to the development of Malta’s ERA Roadmap and to mobilise players towards the forthcoming implementation phase.


This article was last updated on: January 7, 2022