Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
  Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière  DEUTSCH | ENGLISH | FRANCAIS

The Humanities in the European Research Area

A challenge for the humanities, a challenge for Europe

Peter Fisch (European Commission)


Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the beginning of this very important conference, I would like to briefly address three key issues, which might influence our debate over the next days.

1. The concept of the European Research Area (ERA)

When launching the initiative "Towards a European Research Area" in 2000, the European Commission, in general, and Commissioner Philippe Busquin, in particular, highlighted a number of objectives, of which I would like to recall just the most important ones in light of this meeting:

In order to meet these ambitious objectives, major efforts are needed, not just by "Brussels", but by virtually all actors involved, at all levels and across all disciplines. As the ERA is conceived as an open initiative without any hierarchical structures, it will allow for a greater diversity of approaches, based on the specific requirements of regions or disciplines.

It should be clear that such a far reaching initiative has not only a direct impact on European research activities, but is supposed to also strongly influence the future shaping of many research policies at national or regional level.

2. The particular role of Humanities in the ERA

Obviously, such a European Research Area would be incomplete without a strong role attributed to the social sciences and the humanities. It must be stressed, however, that cultural sciences and humanities have a number of specific features, which makes them different from other research fields. I will limit myself here to quote just three of these important particularities.

1. Whereas the humanities are supposed to send a kind of "universal" message, focusing primarily on the advancement of knowledge for humankind rather than on competitive advantages to specific funders, they are, at the same time, much more dependent on national funding than any other discipline. The lack of virtually any industrial multinational co-operation in this field and the scarce resources devoted so far to international public funding schemes in the humanities make the national programmes the main focal point, not just for funding purposes, but in a broader sense also for the agenda setting.

2. Together with social sciences, the cultural sciences and humanities are organised in many different disciplines, without too strong a tie to link them together into a coherent package. At the same time, contrary to the so-called "hard sciences", cultural sciences are deeply embedded in a diversity of national research traditions and research languages, which are part of the European wealth in this field, but which at the same time could hamper the cross-border exchange of ideas and results.

3. Finally, as a consequence, humanities and cultural sciences are particularly sensitive for all sorts of European activities described by terms like "co-operation", "co-ordination", "integration", "harmonisation" or "concentration". Although the need for further action in this direction seems now broadly acknowledged, there is still widespread scepticism whether going along this road might compromise the quality of research carried out.

In light of these persistent difficulties and obstacles, why should we, nevertheless, continue with our efforts towards a European Research Area in the humanities? I think there are many good reasons for this, but I would like to highlight just a few:

Any strategy to advance in this field should be built upon the respect of diversity, and upon a gradual approach to build up common initiatives. A possible starting point could be, in my view, the organisation of a regular dialogue between the various actors involved in order to create a regular information flow. At a later stage, this could lead to the launch of initiatives for the co-operation of programmes and to the development of a kind of common commitment.

3. The role of Humanities in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6)

With respect to the role of humanities in the EU Framework Programmes, it is fair to say that the story so far has been very short, since humanities "as such" have not yet been addressed. Previous Framework Programmes addressed the humanities within a specific context, defined namely by information technologies or the preservation of cultural heritage.

At this stage, I would like to remind you that the Amsterdam Treaty as the legal basis for European research activities restricts these to activities promoting the competitiveness of European industries and improving the implementation of Community policies. While this obviously is not the appropriate basis for supporting all research activities in the cultural sciences, it allows, nevertheless, some important fields to become an integral part of our research portfolio.

In the Sixth Framework Programme, covering the years 2002 to 2006, humanities are directly addressed and no longer used as instruments in other contexts. Within the so-called Priority 7 "Citizens and Governance in a knowledge based society", key questions will be addressed such as

It should be clear that these activities can only be regarded as first steps, but they are important steps in the right direction.

4. Conclusions

While the Sixth Framework Programme opens the door for the humanities, at least to a certain degree, one should not neglect the importance of the European Research Area initiative, which will probably have more important repercussions in the research arena of cultural sciences and humanities.

Whether all these initiatives will finally lead to positive results will depend on a number of factors, but first of all on the enthusiasm and commitment of the scientific communities involved. I see this conference as a very important event in view of a hopefully promising future for the humanities within the European Research Area.

© Peter Fisch (European Commission)

Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu

For quotation purposes:
Peter Fisch (European Commission): The Humanities in the European Research Area. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 20.11.2003     INST