10 years ERC: what does the future have in store for Dutch research?

25 April 2017

On 20 April the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council (ERC) was celebrated with a conference in The Hague about Dutch participation in the ERC programme. Over the past 10 years Dutch researchers have been very successful in acquiring European research funding. However, both scientists and policymakers warned each other that this was mainly because the Netherlands invested heavily in good research for a long time. What if we were to stop doing that? Would that also mean a lack of European success in the longer term?

one of the visitors to the conference put it: 'The reason why we obtain so many grants in the Netherlands at present, is that we invested in research at start of this century. If we still want to acquire ERC grants in 10 years time then we need to invest now.'

During the conference, about 70 representatives from universities, government ministries and scientific bodies discussed issues such as how the ERC can acquire an even firmer footing in the Ninth Framework Programme of the European Commission and how interdisciplinary research can be further strengthened in the European context.

ERC selects on the basis of excellence

Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission and a guest at the conference was enthusiastic about the Dutch achievements at the ERC: 'That Dutch scientists do so well at the ERC says something about the quality of the research in the Netherlands because the ERC selects solely on the basis of excellence. However, if it also wants to score well after 2020 then the Netherlands will have to make a considerable investment in research and innovation at a national level. That is because international ambitions cannot be realised without a firm foundation. I am particularly pleased that the new NWO executive board is working on an internationalisation strategy. This will benefit the harmonisation between the national and European science policy.' He also called upon the ERC grant holders to communicate far more about the impressive research that they do.

Lack of knowledge

According to NWO president Stan Gielen there is a considerable lack of knowledge among Dutch politicians about the relationship between science and society. 'In the models it uses to check the budgets of election manifestoes, the CPB does not award any economic benefit to scientific research. Therefore if they remove the costs of science from the model you do not see any change on the benefits side and consequently you do not notice how much damage such cutbacks cause Dutch society. It is high time we change something in that regard.'


According to Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the ERC Scientific Council, it is vitally important that Europe continues along its current path. He made reference to the NSF, the American sister organisation of NWO, which is fading away under the current political regime in America. In the European context he further called upon those present to focus mainly on interdisciplinary research and to invest in collaboration, for example in the ERC Synergy programme.

Source: NWO