Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commisison’s special envoy for open access, was a “catalyst” behind the new plan.
LUIGI MISTRULLI/SIPA/AP IMAGES

SCIENCE MAG  |  4.09.2018 – 19:58 | Martin Enserink

Frustrated with the slow transition toward open access (OA) in scientific publishing, 11 national funding organizations in Europe turned up the pressure today.

As of 2020, the group, which jointly spends about €7.6 billion on research annually, will require every paper it funds to be freely available from the moment of publication. In a statement, the group said it will no longer allow the 6- or 12-month delays that many subscription journals now require before a paper is made OA, and it won’t allow publication in so-called hybrid journals, which charge subscriptions but also make individual papers OA for an extra fee.

The move means grantees from these 11 funders—which include the national funding agencies in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France as well as Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics—will have to forgo publishing in thousands of journals, including high-profile ones such as Nature, Science, Cell, and The Lancet, unless those journals change their business model. “We think this could create a tipping point,” says Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe, the Brussels-based association of science organizations that helped coordinate the plan. “Really the idea was to make a big, decisive step—not to come up with another statement or an expression of intent.”

The announcement delighted many OA advocates. “This will put increased pressure on publishers and on the consciousness of individual researchers that an ecosystem change is possible,” says Ralf Schimmer, head of Scientific Information Provision at the Max Planck Digital Library in Munich, Germany. Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication, calls the plan “admirably strong.” Many other funders support OA, but only the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation applies similarly stringent requirements for “immediate OA,” Suber says. The European Commission and the European Research Council support the plan; although they haven’t adopted similar requirements for the research they fund, a statement by EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas suggests they may do so in the future and urges the European Parliament and the European Council to endorse the approach.