The European Union is traditionally about creating an internal market, where goods, services, labor and capital can move freely between member states.
Lately there have been efforts to create also European infrastructures for research, where researchers in the different member states can collaborate more efficiently, and compete on a global “research market.” A new tool for such European governance of research is the European Research Infrastructure Consortium, abbreviated ERIC.
If at least three member states hand in a joint application, the Commission can establish an ERIC – an international organization where the involved member states jointly fund and manage a European infrastructure for research in some area. In November 2013, an ERIC was established for biobank research: BBMRI-ERIC, placed in Graz, Austria.
Understanding what an ERIC is and whether BBMRI-ERIC has tools to make the diverse regulations for biobanking in different EU member states more uniform, is not easy. However, a “Letter” in the European Journal of Human Genetics addresses both issues:
The letter is written by Jane Reichel, Anna-Sara Lind, Mats G. Hansson, and Jan-Eric Litton who is the Director General of BBMRI-ERIC.
The authors write that although the ERIC lacks substantial tools to make the regulative framework for biobanking more uniform, it provides a platform where researchers and member states can collaborate developing better ways of navigating the complex legal and ethical landscape. The ERIC also facilitates administration, owning and running of equipment and employment of staff on a long-term basis, thus enabling a time perspective proper to research infrastructures (rather than individual research projects). It also provides opportunities to develop common standards for biobanking activities (e.g., handling of samples) that make biobanks function better together.
Finally, because of the required regular contacts with the Commission and representatives of all EU member states, channels are opened up through which the interests of research can be communicated and influence policy areas like data protection.
Read the letter if you are interested to know more about this new way of building European infrastructures for research.