Membership of the European Union has already improved the status of science among the 10 countries that joined the bloc last May, researchers and officials have told
"We have witnessed a change of quality in Estonian science, and probably in other Baltic states as well," Izold Pustylnik, vice chairman of the Estonian section of Euroscience, told
EU membership seems to be raising awareness of the opportunities for collaboration. For example, Edvard Kobal, director of the Slovenian Science Foundation, told
In some aspects of funding, however, little immediate impact has occurred, because the new member states had been entitled to apply for EU research funds (currently the Sixth Framework Programme) for several years prior to formal membership. This is one reason why several researchers contacted by
But one very significant alteration to the funding situation is that science in the new member states can now benefit from access to the European Union's "structural funds," which are reserved for full members.
"Estonian science is in better shape in the EU," Andres Metspalu of the Estonian Biocentre told
Metspalu reports that Estonian research groups and small- to medium-sized enterprises are also finding they are more readily invited to become part of large-scale collaborative European projects, while scientists and students from other member states are more interested in visiting Estonia.
Similar views come from Lithuania. "The structural funds [offer] a real possibility to renovate our scientific equipment," Valdas Laurinavicius, director of the Lithuanian Institute of Biochemistry told
One issue that many researchers in the new member states have been concerned about is the plan to set up a European Research Council (ERC)_ with a big slice of the budget for the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme. There have been worries that the declared focus on excellence might cause the ERC funding to be channelled to richer countries, such as Britain, Germany, and France, which have the strongest track records in international research. This concern, however, may be easing somewhat.
Vaclav Paces, recently elected chair of the Czech Academy of Sciences, has voiced concerns about the ERC in the past, but he told
One familiar complaint does continues to surface, however, as scientists reflect on their experiences of EU membership so far. It was voiced by Vaclav Paces in a simple plea: "We would welcome less bureaucracy."