A review shows that 80% of research projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC) lead to scientific breakthroughs or significant advances. The findings come amid controversy around the European Commission cutting back on ERC’s budget for the upcoming years.

‘ERC-funded frontier research continues to deliver major impact, often unforeseeable at the outset – as this ex-post evaluation confirms,’ said ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon in a statement. ‘It proves that the EU’s investment in frontier research, through the ERC, pays off greatly.’

The report, which was commissioned by ERC, analysed 225 projects in the life sciences, social sciences, humanities, physical sciences and engineering, completed in 2017. The ERC scientific council asked researchers, who didn’t have a conflict of interest with the projects and hadn’t received ERC funding in the last five years, to assess the impact of each project. These experts graded each study on a scale from ‘no appreciable scientific contribution’ to ‘scientific breakthrough’.

Interdisciplinarity was also assessed, with around 70% of projects relating to more than one field. The results, which are similar to those found in a previous review, also indicate that almost half of the projects had an impact outside of research, such as on policy decisions.

‘Europe needs more of this [research] – not less, as we fear after the July EU summit,’ Bourguignon commented. ‘There are so many more bright minds with outstanding ideas to fund. It is our responsibility as Europeans to make sure they have the backing needed to bring their dreams into reality.’

Set up in 2007, the ERC is one of the top funders of science in Europe with a budget of just over €2 billion (£1.77 billion) in 2019. So far, the institution has funded over 9500 researchers and over 70,000 postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and research staff.