The review of the European Research Council paints at times an ugly picture of a bureaucratic mess. In search of simpler solutions of state run/owned type bodies, bureaucratic distance might be the best thing. Otherwise known as autonomy, the ERC could still act in the interests of the European Union, but without all that bureaucratic overhead, and chummy photo-ops.
Make the ERC a charitable foundation, give it a bag of money, and tell it to get on with the business of supporting research. Give it sufficient guidance to ensure alignment with sensible research goals, and from time to time, top up its funding, so that in time it operates with financial security. Let it in effect be owned by everyone.
Staffed with world-class scientists, committed to a process of transparency and funding excellence, there is no reason to assume that it would fail to achieve any founding objectives associated with creating a uniquely European research funding organisation.
And if the Commission wanted the ERC, as a foundation, to pursue specific objectives, then these would above-board and clearly defined.
With this autonomy would come different forms of public accountability, indeed it would be accountable to more than the Commission, but to the wider standards of research excellence that it should be seeking in the public interest.
Let us, in the end, be clear. The ERC is not an innovative organisation, despite the words in the evaluation report. It is simply a research funding body that seeks to link pots of money, specific research objectives and researchers, though some process of peer-review, assessment and analysis. In the end, its success is measured not in money dispensed, or programmes in existence, but the results of research funded. The ERC should think of itself more like a ‘midwife’, who can take little credit for the resulting offspring, but they can be assured that they did help.