FEBS statement on support for the mission of the ERC
The European Research Council (ERC) has the mission ‘to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence’.
FEBS was a contributor to the creation of the ERC for investigator-driven funding within Europe, as described here: Celis, J.E. and Gago, J.M. (2014) Shaping science policy in Europe. Mol. Oncol. 8, 447–457
The recent resignation of the ERC president Mauro Ferrari generated media interest regarding the autonomy of the ERC as well as the process of nominating its president, a statement from the ERC Scientific Council clarifying its position, and comments from other scientific organizations, such as EMBO, particularly in relation to COVID-19-related research.
While recognizing that there is also a place for policy-driven funding for certain research areas based on societal need, FEBS continues to be a supporter of the concept of bottom-up scientist-driven ‘frontier’ funding opportunities offered by the ERC at various career stages. The selection of these projects is based on excellence, as determined by an independent peer review process. A widely quoted example of the value of curiosity-driven research is that of the CRISPR revolution developing from the study of strange microbial repeat sequences. Various ‘impact’ information is presented on the ERC website, including projects described under ‘Stories’.
FEBS is itself essentially a grass-roots organization. In two of FEBS’ main funding programmes – FEBS Fellowships and FEBS Advanced Courses – it is also the case that FEBS does not set topics within the broad area of biochemistry, molecular biology and related disciplines, but in the call for applications invites the best ideas from its life science community.
It is the responsibility of national and European-level organizations and funders to find the right balance between investigator-initiated research and goal-oriented research. The former has been very well served by the mission and highly successful programs of ERC since its foundation and the EU should provide the necessary funds and policy support for their long-term continuation.