This priority of the Horizon 2020 programme aims to reinforce and extend the excellence of the Union's science base and to consolidate the ERA in order to make the Union's research and innovation system more competitive on a global scale. It consists of four specific objectives:
(a) "The European Research Council (ERC)" provides attractive and flexible funding to enable talented and creative individual researchers and their teams to pursue the most promising avenues at the frontier of science, on the basis of Union-wide competition. The fundamental activity of the ERC is to provide attractive long-term funding to support excellent investigators and their research teams to pursue ground-breaking, high-gain/high-risk research. ERC funding is awarded in accordance with the following well-established principles. Scientific excellence is the sole criterion on which ERC grants are awarded. The ERC grants are open to individual teams of researchers of any age, gender, and from any country in the world, working in Europe. The ERC gives particular priority to assisting the best starting researchers with excellent ideas to make the transition to independence by providing adequate support at the critical stage when they are setting up or consolidating their own research team or programme. However, the ERC provides appropriate levels of support for established researchers.
(b) The "Future and emerging technologies (FET)" objective supports scientific collaboration across disciplines on radically new, high-risk ideas in order to foster radically new technologies with the potential to open new fields for scientific knowledge and technologies and contribute to the European next generation industries, by exploring novel and high-risk ideas building on scientific foundations. While FET aims to be visionary, transformative and unconventional, its activities follow different methodologies, from completely open to varying degrees of structuring of topics, communities and funding: (i) 'FET Open' supports early stage science and technology research exploring new foundations for radically new future technologies by challenging current paradigms and venturing into unknown areas; (ii) by nurturing emerging themes and communities, 'FET Proactive' addresses a number of promising exploratory research themes with the potential to generate a critical mass of inter-related projects that, together, make up a broad and multi-faceted exploration of the themes and build a European pool of knowledge; (iii) by pursuing grand interdisciplinary scientific and technological challenges, 'FET Flagships supports ambitious large-scale, science and technology-driven research aiming to achieve a scientific and technological breakthrough in areas identified as relevant in an open and transparent manner involving the Member States and relevant stakeholders.
(c) "Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions" (formerly Marie Curie actions) aim to provide excellent and innovative research training as well as attractive career and knowledge-exchange opportunities through cross-border and cross-sector mobility of researchers to best prepare them to face current and future societal challenges. This objective is pursued by four broad lines of activities: (i) fostering new skills by means of excellent initial training of researchers; (ii) nurturing excellence by means of cross-border and cross-sector mobility of experienced researchers at all career levels; (iii) stimulating innovation by means of international cross-border and cross-sector collaboration in research and innovation by means of exchanges of research and innovation personnel; and (iv) increasing the structural impact by leveraging additional funds, to increase the numerical and structural impact of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions.
(d) "Research infrastructures" aim to endow Europe with world-class research infrastructures which are accessible to all researchers in Europe and beyond and which fully exploit their potential for scientific advance and innovation. While the role of Member States remains central in developing and financing research infrastructures, the Union plays an important part in supporting infrastructure at European level such as encouraging co-ordination of European research infrastructures, by fostering the emergence of new and integrated facilities, opening up and supporting broad access to national and European infrastructures, and making sure that regional, national, European and international policies are consistent and effective. This objective aims to avoid duplication and fragmentation of efforts, to foster coordinated and effective use of the facilities and, where appropriate, to pool resources so that Europe can also acquire and operate research infrastructures at world-class level.