In July EFDA Leader, Francesco Romanelli took over the chairmanship of the EIROforum, the European Intergovernmental Research Organisations forum. The seven partner organisations, the “EIROs”, signed a Charter in 2002 stating, “[the] primary goal […] is to play an active and constructive role in promoting the quality and impact of European Research”. EIROforum is a child of the European Research Area (ERA), the pioneering political concept proposed by the European Commission in 2000 and, nine years later, in 2009 formalised with the Lisbon Treaty.

The research environment needs to demonstrate that it is able to give back to society what it has received from society.”
Francesco Romanelli, EFDA Leader and Chair of EIROforum since July 2010

Looking back over history, the approaches of both EIROforum and the European Commission are entirely complementary. While the Commission forged a European Research Area together with the Member State governments, EIROforum supported the same approach at the level of scientific disciplines. One would expect the Commission and EIROforum to communicate and they do: in June 2010 the EIROs and the European Commission renewed their alliance to the advantage of European Research in general and the European Research Area in particular. In this respect Iain Mattaj, Chairman of the EIROforum at the time and Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), states: “As leaders in our fields of scientific research we play an active role, every day, in turning the European Research Area into a reality. At EIROforum we therefore have considerable experience and expertise, which we will strive to make available to the Commission for the benefit of Europe as a whole”.

In fact, the EIROforum partners are undisputed world-class research performing organisations. Individually, they speak with the authority of recognised practitioners and their words carry the appropriate weight. Collectively, the voice of EIROforum is becoming louder in providing Europe with experience on all research infrastructure related issues.

Excellence in European Research

Key to excellent European Research is free access to research data and easy procedures for exchange of staff between the participating laboratories. EIROforum benefits from EFDA JET’s long-term experience in both aspects. Francesco Romanelli explains why: “Our activities have been coordinated under the umbrella of the EURATOM agreement since the very beginning and this has allowed all the scientists belonging to the various European laboratories to have access to the JET data and to use the JET facility”. This experience fits perfectly with Michael Watkins’ observation. “Europe is recognising”, the Head of the Programme Department at JET, says, “that mobility of staff, security of employment, and transferability of pension rights are very important in order to develop a healthy, evolving scientific community.”

Diversity as strength

What unifies seven members of totally different research fields? Perhaps surprisingly, diversity is the greatest strength of EIROforum. Speaking as a group, EIROforum has forged debates about the whole range of science policy issues for the European Research Area. Taking into account the close link between EIROforum and Europe and, the role of JET as a European research facility, it is no surprise that Francesco Romanelli is firmly founded in Europe. During his chairmanship he is focusing on two main activities. Firstly formation of new infrastructures in Europe and secondly participation in the discussion about the next European Framework Programme that starts in 2014. Francesco believes that the crisis in the economy can be overcome by rediscovering the link between research and innovation. He adds: “If we are successful we could meet the Lisbon goal of making Europe the most dynamic knowledge based society in the world.”

How is EIROforum organised?

The clear structure of EIROforum allows direct communication: The Council is the highest authority of EIROforum. The Coordination Group supervises five Thematic Working Groups which propose and implement activities of mutual benefit. The chairmanship of EIROforum rotates on an annual basis. From July 2010 to June 2011 EFDA JET is in charge: Francesco Romanelli chairs the Council, Michael Watkins chairs the Coordination Group and Chris Warrick, Head of Public Affairs in UK’s fusion association CCFE chairs the “Outreach and Education” Thematic Working Group.

Michael Watkins has been involved in EIROforum since 2002. His particular interest has been in the Coordination Group and the “Instrumentation” and “International Affairs” Working Groups. In the last of these, European and worldwide aspects of international science are considered. Michael Watkins explains this activity which allows us to bring forward our views on best practices and to set up meetings with the various players in the politics behind science in Europe”. With regard to the role of the Coordination Group he says: “Its role is to prepare two Council meetings each year. To do so, we take input from the Thematic Working Groups and from other information platforms.”

Two Working Groups in focus

Large infrastructures are a common characteristic of all EIROforum members. The Thematic Working Group on Instrumentation identifies areas of valuable cooperation and fosters information exchange across organisations by means of specific and dedicated tools such as schools, workshops and databases. Related information platforms were, for example, in 2009, the “2nd EIROforum Technology Transfer Conference” and the “Radiation Hardness Measurement, Testing and Materials Workshop” at the beginning of this year.

For obvious reasons the most visible activities of EIROforum are those of the “Outreach and Education” Working Group. Chris Warrick explains: “We are trying to convey the amazing science that goes on in all our organisations.” But the group doesn’t just organise an exhibition every now and then. They adopted a format called “Science on Stage” which was basically a top-level ‘teach the teachers’ festival.  This hugely popular event continues with Member State support and the continuing assistance of EIROforum. This early activity played a very important role and it received recognition even beyond the borders of Europe. The Working Group has initiated more than that, as Chris explains: “[Science on Stage] carries on with a journal called ‘Science in School’ where we are able to convey not only our own science, but teachers’ articles on experiments they can share amongst their colleagues around Europe”.

Being responsible

After having signed the Charter eight years ago, EIROforum goes from strength to strength. Its attractiveness can be measured by requests from other organisations to join the partnership. The collaboration has developed a strong voice by means of policy papers, topical statements and, last but not least, outreach and education activities which have stimulated dialogue in society. For Francesco Romanelli public responsibility is top of the list to run a research organisation successfully. He specifies: “Public responsibility means that the research environment needs to demonstrate that it is able to give back to society what it has received from society. That involves technology transfer, knowledge sharing, training, outreach and education.”

In this respect EIROforum does not only represent European Research towards the European Commission but raises its voice in many ways to serve the public.