Bibliometric indicators of the European scientific production

By Lilian Nassi-Calò

There is strong evidence that collaborative research between institutions, countries or regions increases the quality, visibility and impact of the resulting publications. This phenomenon has attracted the attention of policy makers as a way to foster excellence in research worldwide.

European countries such as the UK, Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain, among others, have strong research tradition. Framework Programmes (FP) to promote scientific development and innovation in the European Union (EU) have been created from 1984, and since then, inter-organizational, inter-regional and international cooperation have become key elements to increase research competitiveness in the region and reduce the technological gap with the US through the realization of the European Research Area (ERA).

The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), implemented in the region between 2007 and 2013 relied on a budget of 50 million Euros and had the following main components: Capacities, Cooperation1, Ideas, People, and Nuclear Program. Under Cooperation the following priority areas were defined: Health; Food, Agriculture and Fisheries; Biotechnology; Information and Communication Technologies; Nanoscience; Nanotechnologies; Materials and New Production Technologies; Energy; Environment and Climate Change; Transportation and Air Force; Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities; Space; Safety and Construction.

Between March 2010 and March 2015, the independent science and technology assessment company based in Canada Science-Metrix collected, produced and examined a wide variety of bibliometric indicators of FP7 at the request of the European Commission. The study focused on the scientific output and collaboration patterns between countries, regions and European institutions through the analysis of peer reviewed scientific publications indexed in the bibliometric database Scopus of Elsevier. The study aimed to produce indicators on the evolution, contribution and impact of research and innovation in Europe during and prior to FP7 to evaluate the program and guide the development of the successor project, Horizon2020 (H2020), whose purposes is to reaffirm excellence in research and innovation, achieve industrial leadership and address the challenges of society.

This post discloses the main results of this study that provides a broad overview of the current status of research in European countries and the degree of cooperation between authors in different disciplines and sectors in order to boost impact and scientific innovation in the region.

ERA includes the 28 EU Member-States (EU28)2 and 13 associated countries (AC)3. The Science-Metrix study also included US, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Russia for comparison purposes.

Volume and impact of the scientific output

In the period 2000-2013 China appears on the world scenario as the emerging country that stood out in terms of volume of scientific literature, matching the US in total number of publications in 2013. ERA ranks second in growth of publications, while Japan recorded virtually no progress in that period. In 2013 ERA contributed with about one third of the world’s scientific output in Scopus, while the US accounted for about a quarter of the total. Based on the average growth rate of the world’s scientific production, the European Region, however, had a lower growth. The global index is largely influenced by the growth of emerging countries in Asia (other than China), and the BRICS. However, ERA countries such as Luxembourg, Romania, Latvia, Malta and Cyprus (EU28), and Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (AC) also recorded considerable increase in scientific production in the same period. The major producers of ERA are UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, besides the Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden.

Between 2000 and 2013 ERA has gradually reduced the gap with the US in terms of impact of its scientific production, as well as China. As the scientific production growth rate, US and Japan keep a level on the average impact of their publications in the period. United States presents average citation rate 41% higher than the world average in 2010, while Japan scores 13% below the world average.

The study analyzed, then, the region’s performance in FP7 priority topics previously (2004-2007) and during the project term, including a two-year window to consider as well the publications after the end of the project (2010-2013). In general, most of the priority areas recorded increased specialization and impact of publications immediately after FP7, notably Health; Food, Agriculture and Fisheries; Environment (including Climate Change); Socioeconomic Sciences; Construction and Construction Technologies; and Information and Communication Technologies. In FP7 priority areas, ERA scores above the US in Aeronautics and Space, Transport, Energy, and Construction and Construction Technologies, and above China and Japan in Humanities and Security. It is worth noticing, however, that the analysis of the scientific production of non-English speaking countries may have been underestimated since local languages ​​journals are indexed to lowest level in bibliographic databases. Nanotechnology and Nanoscience remain a challenge for ERA, despite the efforts made in the region. Moreover, emerging countries, especially in Asia, have shown remarkable performance in this area.

Scientific collaboration in ERA

In order to assess the extent and impact of scientific collaboration within ERA at national, regional and institutional level bibliometric indicators in FP7 priority areas were collected.

Among the 25 institutions with the largest volume of scientific production in the region (notably from EU28 Member-States), all of them showed a high level (over 70%) of publications with at least one author from a different country inside ERA. Considering collaboration in these institutions with partners from other countries, levels are between 31 and 82%. In general, institutions dedicated to applied research show the highest levels of national and international collaboration, also with the private sector, which shows high degree of collaboration with other companies in nine out of 17 FP7 priority areas, notably Health, Materials Science and Food Production.

The scientific collaboration fostered by initiatives such as the FP in Europe aims mainly to increase the region’s competitiveness and reduce the technological gap with the United States and emerging countries, particularly in Asia. Networking facilitates the sharing of knowledge and resources, avoids duplication of efforts and allows addressing complex issues through complementary skills. The realization of ERA and its efficiency largely depends on the integration between Member-States (EU28) and associated countries (AC). Bibliometric studies conducted by Science-Metrix lead to the conclusion that international collaboration promoted by FP7 indeed contributed to increase integration in the region, as evidenced by the number of joint publications during and after the term of the project. Analysts, however, point out that co-publications with multiple authors are not a guarantee of greater impact; however, papers resulting from collaboration are more likely to be cited.

The study concludes ranking types of collaboration within ERA that produced higher average citations per paper: author of EU28 and non-EU28 countries; authors from different countries within ERA; author of an ERA country and international non-ERA author; author of an ERA country and author of a non-EU28; authors from different EU28 countries; authors from a single ERA country; and one ERA author publication. The results, therefore, support the conclusion that the cooperation fostered by FP benefits the influence of research performed in ERA. It is important to note, however, that the resulting impact of inter-sectoral cooperation (e.g. academy-private sector) is not as pronounced as the cooperation between academic institutions. One implication of this finding is not always an increased impact indicates a higher quality or breakthrough innovation, but simply the additive effect of disseminating results among a greater number of citation networks (of each individual author).

Interdisciplinary collaboration

More than institutional, international or regional collaboration, it is currently widely accepted that interdisciplinary collaboration has greater potential to foster innovative and actually transformative research. Therefore, stakeholders and decision makers have given priority to interdisciplinary programs and cooperation networks. This component has been addressed in the H2020 program to which the European Commission has introduced a specific topic on high risk interdisciplinary research for the purpose of developing innovative technologies, similar to what occurs in leading institutions in other countries.


1. It is worth mentioning the participation of Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) in the Capacities component of FP7 project in the Science and Society area named NECOBELAC ( between 2009 and 2012. The project involved key institutions in the EU (Italy, Spain, UK and Portugal) and LAC (Brazil and Colombia) aimed to disseminate knowledge, methods and techniques on scholarly communication and scientific writing and open access in the Public Health domain.

2. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom.

3. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Rep. of Moldova, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey.


European Comission. Analysis of Bibliometric Indicators for European Policies 2000-2013. ISBN 978-92-79-47690-7. Available from: DOI:

External links

European Research Area –

Horizon2020 –

Science Metrix –

Scopus –

Seventh Framework Programme –


lilianAbout Lilian Nassi-Calò

Lilian Nassi-Calò studied chemistry at Instituto de Química – USP, holds a doctorate in Biochemistry by the same institution and a post-doctorate as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Wuerzburg, Germany. After her studies, she was a professor and researcher at IQ-USP. She also worked as an industrial chemist and presently she is Coordinator of Scientific Communication at BIREME/PAHO/WHO and a collaborator of SciELO.


Translated from the original in portuguese by Lilian Nassi-Calò.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

NASSI-CALÒ, L. Bibliometric indicators of the European scientific production [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2015 [viewed ]. Available from:


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