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Studying economic research in Europe: The COEURE project

Economics in Europe has seen impressive growth in recent years. But European economic research still lags behind the US in terms of productivity. This column discusses a new research project, ‘COEURE’, that will study the state of economic research in Europe and the mechanisms by which it is funded.

Economics in Europe has seen impressive growth in the number of researchers, research output, and global impact. Nobel Prizes have recently been awarded to European economists Chris Pissarides and Jean Tirole (see Pissarides 2010, Tirole 2014). This is welcome news but it remains that Economists in Europe still lag behind their US counterparts in terms of research productivity (as measured by the numbers of articles published in the top field journals and their impact).

And it’s not as if there are no interesting issues to stimulate research. The Eurozone debt crisis and, more recently, its Greek counterpart, has provided a sharp reminder that the EU needs new approaches to designing its macroeconomic policies and coordinating them with the policies of its Member States. The need is no less urgent in other areas such as productivity, growth and innovation.

Part of the explanation for the European lag may be fragmentation – the result of different languages, a diversity of academic traditions and a variety of informal barriers. This fragmentation inhibits the mobility of academic talent and, perhaps more importantly, the efficient allocation of research funding in Europe. In times of austerity the latter becomes particularly important.

The EU provides some funding for research in economics on a pan-European basis, for example through the European Research Council, but other funding channels for economics (and the social sciences more generally) were sharply curtailed in Horizon 2020, an EU programme that funds research and innovation. As a result, national sources of funding have played a more important role. It is therefore all the more important that they operate efficiently.

An new approach to supporting high quality, relevant research

The Toulouse School of Economics, together with the European Economic Association, the Bocconi University, the Dortmund University, the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the European University Institute, the Central European University, the Norwegian School of Economics and the Centre for Economic Policy Research, has launched  ‘COoperation for EUropean Research in Economics’ (COEURE), a project that brings together the key actors in the European economic research space –those who produce research, users of research in the policy community and the private sector, and those who fund research. COEURE (www.coeure.eu) is supported by the Seventh Framework Programme, an EU fund focussed on European research and the development of new technology. The aim of COEURE is to take stock of research output and research funding in Europe to then build a consensus among producers, users and funders on the most efficient ways to support high quality, relevant research in the Europe.

Our initial focus

The first step involves taking stock of the current state of research on eleven key policy issues:

  • Financial markets;
  • Population, migration, ageing and health;
  • Labour markets;
  • Research and development, innovation and growth;
  • Fiscal and monetary policy;
  • Energy and the environment;
  • Transport and regional development;
  • Trade and globalisation;
  • Education and human capital;
  • Inequality and welfare; and
  • Competition and regulation.

The stock taking will be based on literature surveys, supplemented by data gathering and quantitative analysis on the production of research by European researchers. Each survey will focus on one of the eleven key policy issues, and will map out the research ‘frontier’ and the activities of European researchers working at each frontier. It will go on to identify the key open research questions, and suggest ways in which research on these issues should evolve over the medium term to better address the policy challenges that Europe is now facing.

Understanding how funding decisions are made

The second step focusses on research funding agencies in Europe. We will analyse:

  • How research agendas are set;
  • How priorities are decided; and
  • What the balance is between top down and bottom up initiatives, and between ‘academic’ criteria on the one hand and policy relevance and societal impact on the other.

This will involve surveying the key funding agencies to gather quantitative data (e.g. the budgets allocated to economic research and how they vary over time, their allocation across topics, submissions and success rate, and the number of referees) as well as qualitative data (methods used by the agencies to select programmes and projects).

This information will be used to assess the extent to which mechanisms for funding economic research in Europe have in the past supported frontier research in key European economic policy issues. The collected information will also suggest ways in which funding mechanisms might evolve in the future to more effectively support frontier research. COURE’s work will appraise the effectiveness of these funding mechanisms in comparison to other countries such as the United States.

The underlying work on which this column draws was produced as part of the COEURE project "COoperation for EUropean Research in Economics” funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320300 (COEURE).


Pissarides, C (2010), “Prize Lecture: Equilibrium in the Labour Market with Search Frictions”, Nobelprize.org.

Tirole, J (2014), “Jean Tirole - Prize Lecture: Market Failures and Public Policy”, Nobelprize.org.

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