EU Research and Development Policy

Whilst the Founding Treaties contained no competences for R&D, a common R&D policy was starting to be adopted from the 1970s onwards. This was based on Article 235 EEC (now Article 352 TFEU) which gave the EEC the competence to ‘take the appropriate measures’ where action was deemed necessary to achieve the Community’s objectives. This led to the adoption of the First Framework Programme[1] in 1983, which defined a budget and activities for a period of three years and focussed mainly on energy research. Efforts amplified from the late 1980s onwards, as R&D was considered increasingly important for the development and competitiveness of Europe.[2] With the Single European Act 1987 the policy area ‘research and technological development’ was incorporated into primary law as Articles 130f-130q EEC. These provisions officially foresaw the multi-annual Framework Programmes as a basis for more detailed initiatives. The competences given to the EEC were complementary in nature, intending to support actions of the Member States. However, unlike in education policy they did not stand under strict subsidiarity and an absolute prohibition of harmonisation. The policy aims were to increase collaborative research with businesses, support cooperation beyond the EU, the dissemination and transfer of knowledge, increase of competition and support of mobility in the Community. The Maastricht Treaty 1992 made ‘research and technology’ a Community objective (Article 3m EC), while the Treaty of Amsterdam 1997 only renumbered the provisions. Yet, the content was neither changed with that Treaty nor with Treaty of Nice 2001.[3]

The provisions on R&D have been located in Article 179-190 TFEU since the Treaty of Lisbon 2007 and they have been slightly strengthened. Under Article 4 TFEU research policy has become a shared competence and the Union can pass legislation in addition to Framework Programmes to attain the European Research Area following the ordinary legislative procedure (Article 182(5) TFEU). Paragraph 1 of Article 179 TFEU makes R&D a Union objective and explicitly mentions the establishment of the European Research Area in which ‘researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely’. The latter is stressed again in para 2 which foresees that the Union shall aim at ‘permitting researchers to cooperate freely across borders and at enabling undertakings to exploit the internal market potential to the full’. Furthermore, the title ‘research and technological development’ is complemented by the words ‘and space’ and a new Article 189 TEFU on a common space policy has been inserted.[4]

The broadening of the competences has not led to significant regulatory initiatives or harmonisation of R&D policy. Indeed, Article 4(3) TFEU contains the caveat that the exercise of the shared competence ‘shall not result in Member States being prevented from exercising theirs’. The Member States thus remain the main actors responsible for designing research policy which is not to say that EU policy has had no influence. Indeed many have researched the effects of EU research policy, despite it being still mainly distributive in nature.[5]

Since 2014 the Framework Programmes have been replaced by Horizon 2020[6] aligning EU research funding with the Innovation Union Flagship of the Europe 2020 Strategy (which will be discussed further below in Sect. 2.2.2), the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the building of the European Research Area.[7] Overall, as research has shown, European R&D policy has become increasingly influenced by economic thinking over the last decades,[7] more recently supplemented by ideals of excellence and societal impact.[9]

  • [1] Framework Programme for Research 1984-87 COM(83) 260 final.
  • [2] Jones 2001, p. 325 seq. This corresponds with the changing nature of HEIs as described inChap. 1.
  • [3] On the development of supranational R&D policy and its objectives see Jones 2001, p. 325seq; Hummer 2005, p. 33 seq, 70 seq; Lenaerts and Van Nuffel 2005 p. 318 seq, Chou andUlnicane 2015; Ulnicane 2015.
  • [4] This would have been similar under the Constitution. See Lenaerts and Van Nuffel 2005,p. 319.
  • [5] For an in-depth analysis of the governance and functioning of EU research policy see Pilniok2011; Chou and Gornitzka 2014; Chou and Ulnicane 2015; Ulnicane 2015; Young 2015.
  • [6] For more information see the European Commission’s ‘Horizon 2020—The EU FrameworkProgramme for Research and Innovation’ website on
  • [7] Young 2014, 2015; Chou and Ulnicane 2015.
  • [8] Young 2014, 2015; Chou and Ulnicane 2015.
  • [9] Young 2014, 2015; Ulnicane 2015. Young raises the question if the focus on excellence canlead to a two-speed Europe in R&D policy and whether increasingly competitive EU funding istruly efficient considering the significant investments into the preparation of applications withonly small chances of success.
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