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Science is international, and researchers are generally eager to go abroad and gain foreign experience. However, they sometimes have to overcome great hurdles when emigrating, such as finding a research position in the destination country or arranging a job for the partner and child care. These 'mobstacles'--'obstacles to mobility'--become even more evident when scientists wish to return and proceed with a career in their home countries.

The European Commission has long since tried to facilitate and stimulate international mobility of researchers, mainly through the Marie Curie Programme. Recently an initiative to set up the European Network of Mobility Centres--called ERA-MORE--was launched. This network provides internationally oriented scientists and their families with essential information and support.

In the early 1980s, the European Commission ran its first Framework for Research and Technological Development (FP1), which has been followed up by five more Framework Programmes (FP2 to FP6). These programmes each run for approximately 4 years with the objective of co-funding relevant European research projects. The research topics have changed over time, due to the changing circumstances and needs of Europe. Part of the budget for each Framework Programme has been earmarked to support individual fellows and host organisations.

Mobility Development

The budget for training and mobility of researchers in FP1 was small and its objective straightforward: to encourage researchers to move abroad and gain international experience, and to provide funding for their research projects. In the subsequent Framework Programmes, the budget for training and mobility has steadily increased, to €1.6 billion for research fellowships in FP6, now known as Marie Curie fellowships. With the increase of the budget, the objective has broadened as well; within FP6 the Marie Curie programme aims to promote the development and transfer of research competencies, the consolidation and widening of researchers' career prospects, and the promotion of excellence in European research.

In 2000, the European Commission started to lift research beyond a national level, sending out a Communication entitled ' Towards a European Research Area'. This document describes the development of a new research area, with three basic aims:

  • Create an "internal market" in research with freedom of movement of knowledge, researchers, and technology

  • Better coordinate national research activities and policies

  • Develop a European research policy.

The European Commission believed that the European Research Area (ERA) project could only be successful if the focus was on the most crucial elements of research: researchers themselves. The Commission also saw that merely providing funding would not be enough. Researchers often experience many difficulties in moving abroad, and often decide to stay where they are. To address this issue, in 2001 the European Commission invited representatives of 17 countries to discuss how obstacles to mobility could be removed or at least made less obstructive. As a result of these discussions, ERA-MORE was developed.

ERA-MORE

Launched in May 2004, ERA-MORE is a network of Mobility Centres (MCs) throughout Europe, from Israel to Iceland and from Poland to Portugal. According to the European Commission, the MCs provide "proximity assistance to researchers and their families on all issues relating to their mobility". In proper English this means that MCs keep an e-mail address and a phone number open for any question related to mobility. In addition, most MCs offer the opportunity to make appointments with their staff. Some examples of issues on which the MCs can help are mentioned in Box 1.

Box 1. Mobility Issues

The MCs provide assistance on any issues related to mobility. Some examples are:

  • Career development How do you find a vacancy for a research position in another country? How easy or difficult is it to go back to your home country and proceed with your career? How can you get out of temporary postdoc positions?

  • Financial issues Once you have found a position in another country, who will pay for your stay? What funding opportunities are available?

  • Visa problems What are the legal requirements of the country you wish to work in? Do you need a work permit or a residency permit and how do you get one?

  • Social security and tax Do you have to pay taxes in the host country? How much? Are there any tax incentives?

  • Family issues What happens if you wish to bring your partner and/or children? Do they need a visa? How do you find a school for your children and where do I go to learn the local language?

Of course there is no 'European answer' to questions about visas, tax issues, or social security. That is why the MCs work on a national and sometimes local level. Each participating country provides at least one MC, but the total number of MCs depends upon the countries themselves. Some countries, such as Malta and Germany, have a single MC because of their small size or centralized research structure. In other countries--for example, France and the Netherlands--the organisation of support for researchers is decentralised so several MCs is an obvious choice.

Most countries incorporate the MCs in existing organisations that are already active in supporting mobile researchers and their families. The number of people working at an MC varies, as does their specific expertise. MCs collaborate closely with each other and direct questions to the centre that can provide the best answer. All the MCs of one country come together in a National Network of Mobility Centres, of which some have a joint Mobility Portal. Box 2 lists the--now 32--participating countries.

Box 2. Countries participating in ERA-MORE

A link is established to the countries that have already launched their National Mobility Portal. Others will follow soon.

Look at the European Mobility Portal for a detailed map.

Austria

Finland

Israel

Netherlands

Slovenia

Belgium

France

Italy

Norway

Spain

Bulgaria

Germany

Latvia

Poland

Sweden

Cyprus

Greece

Lithuania

Portugal

Switzerland

Czech Republic

Hungary

Luxembourg

Romania

Turkey

Denmark

Iceland

Malta

Slovakia

United Kingdom

Estonia

Ireland

Before setting up an MC or network of mobility centres, each country carried out a survey to test the availability of information to researchers, via the Internet or through contact persons at universities and other organisations. The situation differs from one country to the next, but information about certain topics--such as social security, tax, and to a lesser extent immigration--is hard to get throughout Europe. Most MCs have, or will, set up mechanisms to gather this information and make it available to the research community on the centre's Web site.

National Contact Point

I work as a National Contact Point for the Marie Curie programme in the Netherlands. In 2001 I was invited to take part in the pilot group for the creation of a European network of MCs. Discussions in this group covered a wide range of topics--from providing statistics on researcher mobility to promoting mobility between academia and industry--for which the situation between countries varied. These discussions showed that each country holds a lot of experience and expertise, but that in most cases mobility centres would increase the accessibility and visibility of this knowledge.

MCs are not only for Marie Curie fellows; they provide information to all researchers, European and non-European, with an interest in moving to a European country. The Web portals of the national MCs list preliminary information and relevant contact addresses. Additionally most MCs organise informational meetings or training sessions. Detailed information about these meetings and sessions is or will soon be available at the MC's Web site of your destination country. At the Researcher's Mobility Portal the information of all national MCs is collected into a large database of job vacancies, fellowships, grants, and practical information. With this portal the whole of Europe is at your feet.