The ERC was known as the "Ideas" Programme under the EC's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The ERC is the first pan-European funding agency for investigator-driven frontier research. Its main aim is to stimulate scientific excellence by supporting and encouraging the very best, innovative and creative scientists, scholars and engineers and inspiring them to be adventurous, take risks and pursue ‘cutting edge’ research. The scientists are encouraged to go beyond established frontiers of knowledge and the boundaries of disciplines.
The ERC’s three funding streams aim to stimulate the work of the established and next generation of independent top research leaders in Europe. Early to mid-career researchers, as well as fully established investigators, from across Europe compete for ERC grants where scientific excellence as the sole criterion for funding. The ERC also aims to raise the status and visibility of European frontier research. The ERC has funding of €7.51 billion (2007-13). Please refer to the ERC website for further information.
The fundamental principle for all ERC activities is that of stimulating investigator-initiated frontier research across all fields of research, on the basis of excellence. Awards are made and grants operate according to simple procedures that maintain the focus on excellence, encourage initiative and combine flexibility with accountability.
Four funding streams will are available in FP7: the Starting Investigator Researcher Grant, the Consolidator Investigator Grant, the Advanced Investigator Grant and Proof of Concept (PoC). These schemes, operating on a "bottom-up" basis, across all research fields, without predetermined priorities, are expected to be the core of the ERC's operations for the duration of the 7th Framework Programme.
Research projects do not have to be collaborative or even pan-European. There is no specification of research areas or themes. There is no "juste retour" which sees member states get back a "fair proportion" of the monies they put into the funding pot. The ERC has a single guiding principle: the types of projects it funds must be at the "frontiers" of knowledge. "Excellence" is the main criterion.