The first political framework for the European Research Area (ERA) was adopted in March 2000 within the context of the Lisbon Strategy in order to promote cooperation and coordination of national Research & Innovation (R&I) policies and address fragmentation of national research and innovation (R&I) systems.

Its ultimate goal was and continues to be the free circulation of researchers, scientific knowledge and technology across the Union by encouraging cross-border cooperation and improving coordination of Member State research policies and programmes.

The 20th anniversary of the ERA1 was celebrated during the Croatian Presidency (1st semester 2020) at the Informal Meeting of Research Ministers (February 2020) in the presence of Phillipe Busquin, European Commissioner for Research at the time.

The main elements-milestones for the integration and deepening of ERA were the following:

  • Establishment of the European Science Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) in 2002 with a mission to shape a policy for research infrastructures of European interest through development and updating of the relevant strategic roadmap (ESFRI Roadmap). In this context, 37 research infrastructures have already been implemented, mobilizing close to 20 bn EUR.
  • Setting the objective to increase investment in R&D to 3% of GDP at EU level (GERD/GDP) at the Barcelona European Council, with the private sector accounting for two-thirds of this financing by 2010. The 3% index was to become one of the five headline targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Since it has not been achieved to date, the new ERA Communication (see below) proposes to re-affirm the 3% target and set new quantitative objectives.
    It is noted that in 2019 the R&D intensity index at EU level (gross expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP) stood at 2.19%. Intensity indexes for business expenditure and public investment were 1.46% (about two-thirds of total expenditure) and 0.73% respectively.
    R&D intensity for Greece is 1.27%, lagging behind EU average by 0.92%.
    Annex Ι presents a diagram of relevant data for all Member States and a comparison with year 2000 (2001 for Greece).
  • Launching of EURAXESS Network and of the Charter and Code for Researchers with the aim to improve career opportunities for researchers.
  • Implementation of the 6th R&I Framework Programme which launched co-funding actions with Member States (ERANETs) and of Articles 185 and 187 of the Treaty for the functioning of the European Union (185 and 187 TFEU) for the establishment of institutionalised partnerships with variable geometry.
  • Introduction, in 2010, of the ERA in Article 179 TFEU on the objectives of Union policy for research, technological development (RTD) and space (Articles 179-182 TFEU). Moreover, Article 182 (5) TFEU provides for the adoption of legislation to strengthen/implement the ERA.
  • Adoption of Commission Communication on the European Research Area (ERA) in 2012, referred to in the ERA priorities and in the May 2015 Council conclusions on the ERA Roadmap 2015-2020 which formed the basis for developing Member States’ national action plans and adopting the current governance system.
  • The updated Commission Communication on the new ERA was adopted following a request formulated in the draft Council conclusions in 2018; such conclusions also included a consensus on the current governance system comprising: a) the European Research Area Committee (ERAC) (overall coordination/main committee), b) the Strategic Forum for International scientific and technological Cooperation (ERAC/SFIC), c) the High-Level Group on Joint Programming (ERAC/GPC), and working groups on, d) open science/innovation/knowledge, e) gender issues and f) human resources/research careers. Moreover, a steering group was established to support all committees/groups and achieve synergies. All groups are chaired by Member State delegates, and the main ERA Committee is co-chaired by a Member State delegate and the European Commission, currently represented by the R&I Commissioner Mr. Jean-Eric Paquet. Streamlining of the ERA governance system has been a standing request of Greece.
  • It must be pointed out that according to the Council conclusions on ERA, implementation of the European Research Area should have been completed by 2014. The Open Science, Open Innovation, Open to the World approach, the so-called 3Os, was launched in 2014-2016, resulting, among others, in the creation of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC2), one of the most recent significant ERA achievements.

In addition to European research infrastructures, human resources and the EOSC, major ERA achievements include the Joint Programming Initiatives between Member States, mobilizing an estimated amount of 7 bn EUR to date. Finally, regarding gender issues, equality has been reached in PhD graduates, but there is still a problem with senior positions in higher education, with women occupying only 25% of positions.


The New ERA Communication emphasizes innovation/diffusion & uptake of research results and strengthening/supporting Member States in introducing reforms to facilitate transfer of research results into the market and the real economy. In order to promote these reforms, Member States should at the same time take into account the European Semester recommendations.

The Communication defines four priorities/objectives; the first three objectives broaden the ERA mission statement/vision and were designed to ensure that the new ERA is fit for all challenges facing the Union. Priorities and proposed objectives, to be implemented by the EU in partnership with the Member States, are the following:

  1. Prioritizing investments and reforms in R&I

Accelerating the green transition and digital transformation to support European growth and increase competitiveness. In this regard, the Communication re-affirms the 3% target (GERD3/GDP) destined for investments in R&D in the EU, and urges Member States to commit to a new target: increase their public R&D investments from the current 0.81% of GDP to 1.25% of GDP by 2030, in order to mobilize investments by the private sector. Moreover, in order to encourage further cooperation between Member States and alignment of national public R&D efforts, it is proposed to voluntarily set a new target: to raise national public R&D funding for support of cooperation between Member States and of their contribution to EU objectives, to 5% by 2030 through R&I joint programmes, missions and European partnerships  Currently, this percentage is about 1% at Union level.

  1. Improving access to excellence

This objective addresses the important differences observed between Member States in R&Ι investment and their impact on scientific excellence and innovation production. Taking into account the support provided by the Commission to Member States lagging behind the EU average R&D investment over GDP, it is proposed that these Member States direct their efforts to increase their total investment in R&D by 50% in the next 5 years. Further, in order to reflect progress towards excellence-based research, Member States lagging behind the EU average as regards highly cited papers should bridge this gap by at least one-third in the next 5 years.

III.  Transferring research results into the market and the real economy, and ensuring Europe’s competitive leadership in the global race for technology 

This is translated into: Στο πλαίσιο αυτό θα προωθηθεί:

  1. Development of common technology roadmaps with industry to allow crowding in more private investments in key international projects4; and
  2. Fostering development of competitive technologies in key strategic areas while securing a stronger European presence in the global scene.

The European Innovation Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology complemented by Union financial instruments should contribute to this objective.

  1. Deepening the ERA

This priority encompasses existing ERA priorities, with an emphasis on improving career development opportunities for researchers, including promoting private sector employment and creating a favourable environment for attracting and retaining the best researchers in Europe in the global race for talent.

Annex I presents a Commission diagram on the above objectives (Transformative R&I policy).
Annex II indicates the 14 actions proposed by the European Commission (Roadmap).


The new ERA Communication was published together with the Communication on the European Education Area, and the Digital Education Action Plan aims at promoting synergies between them, since universities, in addition to their contribution to knowledge generation, can also be a catalyst for strengthening the innovation ecosystem.

The new ERA will contribute to the three main Union challenges, specifically achieving the climate goal, recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and technological autonomy in the cybersecurity, space, artificial intelligence, 5G and e-mobility sectors.


Achievement of the above objectives will be ensured by Horizon Europe, including through widening and ERA strengthening actions, Smart Specialization Strategies, national recovery plans, as well as by reforms introduced taking into account the European Semester recommendations.

In this regard, an important role is to be played by the ERA Forum for Transition which will complement the Horizon Europe Strategic Programming process and offer a platform for the development of an ambitious joint policy and the implementation of funding actions in strategic areas.


Figure: Transformative R&I policy for ERA
Figure: Public and business R&D intensity 2018 and total R&D intensity 2000
Source: DG Research and Innovation based on Eurostat Note: (1) EL, SE: 2001. HR, MT: 2002.


Key actions Date
1. Re-affirm the 3% GDP EU R&I investment target and propose a new EU 1.25% GDP public effort target to be achieved by Member States by 2030  Starting in 2021
2. Launch of ERA Forum for Transition, to support Member States in the coordination and prioritisation of national R&I funding, and reforms  Starting in 2021
3. Support Member States who are below the EU average R&D investment  over GDP to increase their total investment in R&D by 50% in the next 5 years Starting in 2021
4. Set up a dedicated work stream in the ERA Forum for Transition for access to excellence and support less performing R&I Member States in increasing their number of highly cited publications by one-third over 5 years Starting in 2021
5. Develop common industrial technology roadmaps  By the end of 2022
6. Develop and test a networking framework in support of Europe’s R&I ecosystems, building on existing capacities, in order to strengthen excellence and maximise the value of knowledge creation, circulation and use By 2022
7. Update and develop guiding principles for knowledge valorisation and a code of practice for the smart use of intellectual property By the end of 2022
8. New toolbox in support of researchers career development By the end of 2024
9. Launch, via the Horizon Europe Programme, a platform of peer-reviewed open access publishing; analyse authors’ rights to enable sharing of publicly funded peer-reviewed articles without restriction; Ensure a European Open Science Cloud that is offering findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable research data and services (Web of FAIR); and incentivise open science practices by improving the research assessment system. Beginning in 2021
10. Implement the EFSRI White Paper and establish an updated governance structure for research and technological infrastructures By the end of 2021
11. Develop a roadmap of actions for creating synergies between higher education and research, notably building on the dual role of universities 2021
12. Develop inclusive gender equality plans with Member States and stakeholders in order to promote EU gender equality in R&I  Starting in 2021
13. Organise  with Member States and stakeholders Europe-wide participatory citizen science campaigns to raise awareness and networking Starting in 2021
14 Develop with Member States an approach to set and implement strategic priorities that deliver on the ERA agenda through the ERA Forum for Transition and by means of a Pact for R&I in Europe. 2021


1.  More effective national research systems, (ii) optimal transnational cooperation and competition, including by jointly addressing big challenges and developing research infrastructures, (iii) open labour market for researchers, (iv) gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research, (v) optimal circulation, access to and transfer of scientific knowledge, including open access, and (vi) international cooperation.

2. The ultimate objective is to create an environment where European researchers, innovative enterprises and citizens will be able to publish, access and re-use data and to utilize tools and services for R&I and educational purposes. This will mainly be achieved by interconnecting national and European infrastructures, and financed as a co-programmed partnership under Horizon Europe.

3.  Gross domestic expenditure on research and innovation as percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

4. They will be developed under guidance by the European Commission and will include R&I investment priorities/agendas from basic research to deployment. These roadmaps will be part of the Strategic Innovation Agendas agreed with Member States and industry, under the Horizon Europe R&I Partnerships.