V4 Conference 2024 focused on Research Infrastructures

CZELO

The conference of the V4 liaison offices in Brussels addressed many pressing issues that infrastructures face, such as funding.

The conference of the V4 liaison offices in Brussels addressed many of the pressing issues that infrastructures face, such as funding. The conference was opened by José Luis Martínez, President of the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), who pointed out that "sometimes member states themselves do not know how much they have spent on research infrastructures, in some cases they do not even want to know." Martínez recommended developing a clear methodology for calculating infrastructure costs and deepening understanding of national funding sources. He then recommends that member states put in place funding monitoring tools to capture the full spectrum of research infrastructure costs and funding sources, and that an annual workshop be held to share lessons learned among member states.

The keynote speaker was followed by presentations by representatives of selected infrastructures (ELI ERIC, EOSC, eLTER, Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre) and a panel discussion moderated by Jana Kolar, Executive Director of CERIC-ERIC (a list of all panelists is provided at the Conference webpage). Jana Kolar stressed that research infrastructures are an excellent example of how Europe is actively pursuing the objectives of the European Research Area. She also mentioned the establishment of the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) as one of the first key initiatives in this area that contributed to the creation of large-scale research infrastructures, as before the establishment of ESFRI, the establishment of such infrastructures was quite difficult due to the lack of coordination between Member States. Kolar further underlined the importance of research infrastructures through the Council Conclusions on Research Infrastructures adopted during the Czech Presidency of the EU Council and the creation of a new legal instrument, the European Research Infrastructure Consortium ERIC. The first panel discussion also addressed the added value of research infrastructures in the V4 countries. According to Allen Weeks from ELI ERIC, research infrastructures require continuous investment and support as they bring many positive opportunities and impacts (e.g. job creation or greater connectivity of the scientific community) even for smaller EU countries such as the Czech Republic.

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Ondřej Hradil from Masaryk University commented on the situation around research infrastructures: "I have the feeling that the situation regarding research infrastructures is starting to resemble a zoo. We have ERICs and EDICs and research clusters, which are not legal entities in themselves. On top of that, we have touched on the issue of so-called single and multi sited research infrastructures. I am beginning to worry that this is becoming too much of a zoo in terms of the number of entities that somebody needs to run or pay for. Will this system be sustainable in the future?" In response to his question, the panelists agreed that a better system needs to be put in place, while emphasizing that it is good to be careful not to have a zoo with only one animal.

Marek Vyšinka from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports highlighted the European Research Infrastructure EIRENE RI, which is the first European infrastructure coordinated from the Czech Republic (its coordinator is the Czech RECETOX infrastructure). In this respect, the Czech Republic differs from Slovakia, which currently does not have a European-level research infrastructure, as Martin Šponiar from the Slovak Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport (SVK) said. However, at national level, it has, for example, a research infrastructure focused on AI text analysis on social networks or a regional infrastructure focused on the timber industry. Both have recently been awarded a Horizon Europe project (thanks to widening support).

Panelists also reflected on the role of policy declarations in support of infrastructures. They agreed that declarations of support for research infrastructures send clear messages and show the direction the community wants to take. On the other hand, it was also mentioned by István Szabó from the Hungarian Research Network that "from a research point of view, it is sometimes difficult to navigate these strategies/declarations". Patricia Postigo McLaughlin from the European Commission therefore called for more concrete declarations with tangible objectives. According to Marek Vysinka from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, declarations are important, and are useful for the administration as a guide of what to work on. Unfortunately, declarations are not the only things that influence policy. Research infrastructures in the country function as a public service for the scientific community. The Ministry of Education and Science uses structural funds to pay for their operation. However, global research infrastructures and their sustainability are problematic. The Czech Republic pays for them as a founder and at the same time pays for their operation; they are accessible to all researchers free of charge. This has a big impact on the budget and can be seen by the public as a 'waste of money'.

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