Every year, there is at least one new call for proposals from the big institutions awarding grants for scientific research. In Europe, some of these are the Horizon 2020 program, IRC, Marie Curie, LIFE 2014-2020, Eureka Eurostars. In total almost 240 bln US$ are spent on science in Europe combined (wiki) and one might think this is a lot. It turns out it’s not that much when you know that the budget of the US alone is 405.3 bln US$, China – 337.5 bln US$ and Japan with 160.3 bln US$… Then the picture turns to be very grim – governing bodies in Europe are pushing for more translational research (one that is on the fast track of turning into a product which society can benefit from), and yet it’s funding abilities do not correspond to the demands.
How is old-lady Europe doing on the global markets? Europe isn’t an exporting power for food and feed – it’s barely capable of satisfying its own needs in the areas and it imports a lot of food and feed products from the Americas, Africa and Asia. With the development of silicone wonders like Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China (to name just a few in the East), and of course the Silicone Valley in the USA, Europe doesn’t stand much chance on that front either, with its holding strong, but small gems from Germany and some very niche hubs in the smaller member states of the EU. Europe doesn’t have much of high-energy fuels left either, but at least is going strong in terms of developing and implementing renewable energy projects (wind and solar energy mainly). Essentially, the only competing ground left for Europe with the other continents is science.
In past years competing for grants in the EU had turned into a bloody sport, much like the well popular Hunger Games. Each state issues contestants, and they fight for the right to live among each other. And much like in the fictional games, in the fight for grant funds, the big and strong contestants (usually coming from the bigger and richer areas) have an advantageous start compared to the ones coming from less well-off areas. One can argue that the competition is fair and with the same rules for everyone, but what is often ignored is that the starting grounds are vastly different. It may very well be a form of natural selection – the ones who are strong and perform well, get a better chance at surviving. But when it comes to valuable science being done and the survival of research groups and centers along with their employees, things get a little perverted…
Whether restructuring the research institutions operating in Europe, or rethinking the conditions to compete for funds is the way to go, is not an easy exercise for the brain. Nonetheless, it is an ever more present fact that something has to change for Europe to stand a chance on the world map.