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How does the EU fund research facilities and major equipment?

Framework Programme 7 earmarked €1.85 billion for research facilities, and the Framework Programme for 2014 – 2020 (Horizon 2020) will support them with about €2.4 billion.

Research often needs specialised infrastructure, including equipment and buildings, or less tangible infrastructure such as databases,  archives, collections and computing systems.

The EU has supported 3,539 UK based researchers to access 1,055 European research facilities between 2007 and 2013.

These can be of great scientific value but are sometimes expensive, and as a result are often shared and used by scientists from many different countries. Access to and networking between different pieces of research infrastructure represent an important part of the European and international research landscape. Different countries, including the UK, play host to the headquarters of international research facilities.

Most of the cost of shared research facilities is borne by participating countries, but the EU often provides funding for activities such as planning, strategic coordination, networking and transnational access. The Framework Programme for 2007 – 2013 (FP7) earmarked €1.85 billion for research facilities, and the Framework Programme for 2014 – 2020 (Horizon 2020) will support them with about €2.4 billion.

National research facilities 

Most research facilities are built, funded and managed at the national level. Although national research facilities will serve mostly their own national research community, their research value can be greatly increased by creating international networks and granting reciprocal access to researchers based elsewhere.

The EU supports transnational and virtual access, networking, and joint research activities. These create opportunities for new and existing groups of researchers and scientists to collaborate across disciplines and countries, as well as platforms where science and industry can come together. Users can be researchers from academia, business, industry and the public sector from countries participating in the programmes. The EU has supported 3,539 UK based researchers to access 1,055 European research facilities between 2007 and 2013.

In addition, 107 UK national research facilities received support from the EU to grant access to international researchers, fostering collaborations and exchange of ideas.

EU funding is also available to create and coordinate Europe-wide networks of research facilities in the same research area.

Pan-European research facilities

A number of pan-European research facilities exist. They are often distributed across multiple sites within the EU and beyond, with headquarters in one of the participating countries. They are funded by participating countries. 

The EU does not directly fund the construction of these research facilities but can support the associated planning and coordination. It does this through the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).

The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI)

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Pan-European research facilities in the UK

The UK hosts the headquarters of 6 pan-European research facilities, with facilities distributed across multiple participating countries. These are:

  • High Power Laser Energy research Facility (HiPER) – Harwell, Oxfordshire (Central Laser Facility)
  • ELIXIR (European Life-science Infrastructure for Biological Information) – Hinxton
  • Integrated Structural Biology Infrastructure (INSTRUCT) – Oxford
  • Infrastructure for Systems Biology-Europe (ISBE) – London (Imperial College)
  • Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – Manchester (Jodrell Bank)
  • European Social Survey (ESS ERIC) – London (City University)

The UK also hosts 10 facilities that are part of pan-European research facilities headquartered in other European countries and is a member of pan-European research facilities entirely based beyond its borders, such as the European Hard X-Ray Free Electron Laser (European XFEL) based in Germany.

The EU’s role in the UK’s engagement with intergovernmental research efforts

Intergovernmental organisations are part of the European research landscape providing valuable facilities and infrastructures. Each of these organisations has its own institutional arrangements and membership rules, and the EU plays a different role in each. Some, such as the ITER fusion experiment, are directly managed by the EU. Others predate the EU itself and receive only a marginal part of their budget from the EU, such as CERN. 

The six boxes below outline some of the most prominent European intergovernmental research organisations, providing details about their function, location, membership and funding, and the role of the EU in their operation.

European Organisation of Nuclear Research (CERN)

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European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF)

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European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)

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European Southern Observatory (ESO)

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The ITER Organisation

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European Space Agency (ESA)

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Other intergovernmental research facilities

The UK takes part in other intergovernmental organisations. These provide research infrastructures to European researchers and include:

  • European Incoherent Scatter (EISCAT)
  • Copernicus (formerly Global Monitoring for Environment and Security or GMES)
  • Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL)
  • European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)
  • European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMESAT)