The International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2012), currently underway in Copenhagen, is discussing ways to strengthen public and private sector investments into large-scale research projects, so as to secure future growth and science innovation in the 27-member EU.
"In a scenario where finance ministers might decide their overall budget should be cut, I do not want to see the money for research and innovation squeezed or reduced, because that is the policy area that will help us exit from the current economic crisis," European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Maire Geoghegan-Quinn told journalists at the conference.
Research infrastructure is a collective term for instruments such as large-scale telescopes, microscopes, libraries, and biological banks, which benefit researchers across scientific disciplines.
As such infrastructure is often complex and too expensive for individual EU members to build, a common European platform is more cost effective, the European Commission says.
Such infrastructure enables high-quality research which aids economic growth through establishment of spin-off companies and commercial products, it adds.
"We need to transfer the research we do so well in Europe, all the way to the marketplace. And we need the support systems in between that allow that to happen," Geoghegan-Quinn said.
However, EU countries would need to identify their research strengths and prioritize what investments they need to make, so as to benefit from EU cooperation on research infrastructures, she added.
ICRI 2012 will also provide concrete input to Horizon 2020, an 80-billion-euro (around 105 billion U.S. dollars) program that runs from 2014 to 2020, and aims to strengthen top-level European research.
Earlier Wednesday, Geoghegan-Quinn and Danish Minister for Research and Innovation Morten Ostergaard officially opened the Danish National Biobank at the National Serum Institute, praising it as the kind of collaborative research infrastructure the EU needs.
The biobank, which is a public-private initiative, will link information from some 15 million bio-samples with person data from Danish national registries, and provide anonymous data to researchers worldwide, in fields such as genetics and epidemiology.
As not all EU countries are able to invest equally in research, the European Commission has proposed member states can use common EU structural funds to help develop research infrastructure. This could especially benefit those EU countries currently struggling with deep budget deficits and sovereign debt problems.
"If they can use some of the EU funds to better their research infrastructure, it will encourage these governments to invest more in research and universities by themselves," said Ostergaard.
ICRI 2012, which will end Friday, has attracted some 600 expert delegates, making it one of the biggest events during Denmark's ongoing EU Presidency, which runs from January to June 2012.