Swedish presidency to home in on research infrastructures and open science policy

09 Feb 2023 | News

EU ministers talk about cooperation on data sharing and open science publishing at the kick off meeting for research and innovation policy under Sweden’s six-month EU presidency. Here’s what to expect in the coming months

From left to right: Mats Persson (minister for education, Sweden), Claire Giry (director general for research and innovation, France). Photo: European Union

Sweden kicked off a five-month push to deepen EU cooperation on research infrastructures and open data sharing, at an informal meeting of research ministers in Stockholm on Wednesday.

The six-month Swedish presidency of the EU isn’t introducing new topics to the table but homing in on two that have been discussed for years: research infrastructures and open science publishing.

Building on the work of the previous two presidencies of the EU – French and Czech – the Swedes will ask EU ministers whether they are happy with the direction policy is heading and if in the light of the changing geopolitical and policy environment, the direction should shift.

In an interview ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Sweden’s research minister Mats Persson told Science|Business that with his country’s presidency setting out to help the bloc tackle the climate crisis and the fall out from the war in Ukraine, research infrastructures and open science will be key topics to work on. “We’re following on the trio presidency, and we believe these are very important areas to address,” said Persson.

Research infrastructures

When it comes to research infrastructures, the spotlight will be on how to best to use and reuse the data they produce. This means providing access to all interested researchers and innovators, as well as figuring out ways to deal with the high price tags that come with storing, using and open sharing data.

“The Czechs started this discussion on research infrastructures, and we will try to move the discussions forward and hopefully reach conclusions on the ministerial level,” Persson told Science|Business.

There’s room for improvement. In the second half of last year, the Czechs reviewed the status quo and asked the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) to carry out new work on further mapping out and consolidating the European ecosystem of research infrastructures.

And this work links back to open science. “We have been implementing the concept of digital scientific data as an integral part of European open science policy already for years, however, we still have to do a lot to reach the ultimate goal of making digital scientific data viable, accessible, interoperable and reusable,” Czech science minister Helena Langšádlová told journalists following the informal meeting.

Another aspect that is likely to come up during the talks is the energy crisis and how it’s affecting big science labs. “The problem is affecting the different facilities around Europe. This is something to analyse and to have focus on,” said Persson.

Open science

On open science, the Swedish are picking up where the French left off last summer, after adopting council conclusions in June.  

The topic’s been on the table for a good decade, and the ministers are likely to check on where the push for more equitable and accessible publishing is going. Persson says the discussions will focus on creating a fair and open publishing system, which ensures access to high quality journals.

The talks come as the price of publishing scientific articles hits new highs, with open science article processing charges amounting to thousands of euros. Research funders are struggling to cover the rising costs, and there’s a risk tightening purse strings may limit where researchers can publish their work. “They’re opening a very difficult but super important topic. If we want to progress on open science, we’ll need to address this,” one diplomat told Science|Business.

The discussions on publishing will likely link back to the EU push for research assessment reform, an effort to find a more holistic and inclusive way to evaluate research and researchers, which includes putting less focus on quantitative metrics based on published articles, in the assessment process.

Chips Act

The European Parliament and EU member states are currently hashing out the details of the EU’s Chips Act, which aims to create a home-grown semiconductor industry.

Part of the plan is a new industrial partnership under Horizon Europe. Setting out the legislation governing the partnership will fall on the shoulders of research ministers, but it may take longer than the five months left of the Swedish ministry to get there. First, the Parliament and other ministries must agree on the ‘industrial’ details of the wider package.

The likely point of contention here will be how to fund the new partnership. Research ministers don’t want to see extra money from Horizon Europe being diverted to the Chips Act, as proposed by the European Commission.

“Our aim is to get things done and to work with these issues. We hope the trilogue will be fruitful, and we are hopeful that we will be able to finalise the Chips Act, but that’s up to the negotiations,” said Persson.

What else?

While the Swedish lead discussions on open science and research infrastructures, the Brussels R&I policy bubble is not standing still. Likely topics to make headway in the next five months are the EU’s upcoming proposals on the Sovereignty Fund and the Critical Raw Materials Act. “Lots of things we’re monitoring [relate to] how R&I is contributing to other policies, and whether this doesn’t get out of hand,” a diplomat tells Science|Business.  

On the research front, member states are already starting technical level talks on the next EU research programme, due to start in 2028, and the European Commission is promising a new document on science diplomacy. It was planned to be out around Easter, but sources say it may take longer. But a lot of this is likely to fall to the Spanish presidency, which takes the reigns in July.

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