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Helping Czech Science

How much money are we willing to invest in our future? I mean an investment in science and research.

The volume of invested funds differs across the globe. For instance, Japan spends more funds on science and research than the United States (2.77% of GDP) and, moreover, they intend to increase that funding from the current 3.75% to 4% of the GDP over the next five years. The European Union spends about 2% of its GDP on science and research; however, there are efforts to increase this amount to 3% by 2020. For the period 2007-2013 the European Union budget allocated EUR 143 billion to research and innovative projects.

This February the European Union introduced a plan modernising research funding, which is expected to bring further innovations, increase their economic impact, make the system easier for researchers and guarantee optimum utilisation of taxpayers’ money. The plan is based on the priorities set in the Europe 2020 Strategy aimed at assuring economic growth and new jobs. Until 20 May 2011 public consultation is to be carried out. In the second half of the year the European Commission shall prepare specific proposals for actions. And when it comes to which proposals are going to be implemented, our comments are just as important.

And what about expenditure allocated to science in the Czech Republic? Although over the last ten years the funds invested in research and development has increased 2.3 times and amount to about 1.6% of the GDP (CZK 55.3 billion in 2009), when compared to other EU member states we still, unfortunately, lag behind in the volume of allocated funds. While comparing expenditures on science as a percentage of GDP in the Czech Republic and new EU member states, we are still doing rather well. However, comparison with Northern European countries or the EU average does not look so bright.

It is not just about the willingness to direct a proportion of the budget to science and research. The government’s budgetary responsibility must carefully consider every expense. Therefore, we are very pleased to hear that six large Czech infrastructural projects, co-funded with EU resources, are about to be approved. 22 billion Czech crowns are still in the game.

What projects are we talking about? Three letters, ELI, stand for “Extreme Light Infrastructure”. The project aims at building a unique laser infrastructure in Dolní Břežany. ELI will be a research centre pioneering many areas of research applying ultraintensive lasers. This will provide the Czech Republic with a unique opportunity to host outstanding scientists from all over the world. The ELI mission is both basic academic research and applied research with a direct impact on society.

In addition, the other projects include ICRC – International Clinic Research Centre at the St. Anna Hospital in Brno, CEITEC – Central European Institute of Technology at Masaryk University in Brno, IT4Innovations – Centre of Excellence and large computer centre in Ostrava, SUSEN project – Sustainable Energy focusing on the research of nuclear fuels in Plzeň and Řež, and finally BIOCEV – Biotechnological and Biomedical Centre of the Academy of Sciences and Charles University in Vestec.

However, the road travelled was not easy. In addition to the EU funds the centres are financed from the Czech state budget and private funds. Therefore, we have had to prove to the Union authorities, in a thorough manner, the transparency of relationships between all engaged entities. In particular, the Commission required a guarantee that the projects will not harm competition and thus do not represent banned public subsidies. In the end, the experts, civil servants and politicians from the Czech Republic and the Permanent Representation in Brussels presented all of the necessary documents.

Thereby, the imaginary traffic light should already show its “green light” six times this spring.

Milena Vicenová

Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU

Brussels, 8 April 2011

 

Photo: Thierry Monasse