€54.5 billion for European research - a priority for MEPs

June 14, 2006

Brussels, 13 Jun 2006

MEPs debated the EU research and development programme (FP7). With some â'¬54.5 billion at stake, MEPs saw this as crucial to achieving increased economic growth in the EU. The question of whether the EU should finance research using embryonic stem cells raised much debate.

Opening the debate, the European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potocnik said this was an important day for science. While â'¬54.5 billion was less than what the Commission had originally proposed, it was a substantial increase on the current programme. "This programme represents a new mindset in supporting and conducting research in Europe. Our efforts for simplification will help make sure we attract the best participants and get the best value from our science."

Mr Potocnik said the Commission could accept about two thirds of the amendments in the Buzek report, and agreed with the aims of many others.

"The European Research Council is a most exciting new development, and we need to get the structure right." He was opposed to the idea of a review in 2008, which he said was too soon to be meaningful. It would also be wrong to specify future changes in the structure in advance. The important thing was to maintain its independence, he said, proposing an independent review of the ERC in 2010.

Regarding stem cell research, the Commissioner spoke of his "profound respect" for every personal opinion. He said the Commission had learned from the debate on the Sixth Framework Programme, and proposed to continue the same cautious, case-by-case approach in the Seventh Programme. The position of the Industry Committee was in line with the Commission's ideas. A cut off date for which stem cell lines could be used, however, would have no basis in science and could severely compromise European scientists' access to the best quality lines.

Mr Potocnik concluded: "The Seventh Framework Programme is an essential part of Lisbon Strategy - it is important to send the signal that we can deliver on time. With your support will be able to meet target and mobilise researchers to start participating from end of this year."

Parliament's rapporteur Jerzy BUZEK (EPP-ED, PL) thanked all those who had worked on the subject. "This is not our dream budget, but â'¬55 billion does show the way the EU wishes to go on the path towards a knowledge based economy." The basic lines of the Commission's proposal had Parliament's support: setting up the ERC, joint technology platforms, improving links to industry, space and socioeconomic research. "Excellence should be a criterion for all programmes, to exploit to the full our research infrastructure and support the best scientists."

Mr Buzek stressed the importance of continuing to train scientists in Europe and combating the brain train, as well as increasing pressure to improve innovation and links to small businesses.

On embryonic stem cell research, he said he had tried to reach a compromise which could get majority support.

"Parliament's work has been quick and efficient, showing responsibility and maturity. I hope it will be possible to begin on 1 Jan 2007 - everyone expects Lisbon to be a success," he said.

Alyn Smith (Greens/EFA), Draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development said: "Research and the upscaling of Europe's economy is Europe's new narrative. Europe used to be about coal and steel, then it was about agriculture and fisheries. For the future, Europe is going to be about research and development, and where Europe adds value in coordinating the two."

From a development perspective I would say that it should be regional development. There is a clear complementarity between the research and regional development agendas. The key partner in actually delivering the grand research agenda that we set at European level are the cities and the regions and the businesses within those cities and regions. Mr Smith continued "I think it is also worth stating that colleagues I and others want to see a lot more synergy in FP7 â€" and, indeed, FP8 â€" between structural funds and research funding. While the budget for FP7 is far from what we wanted, it is even more important that we maximize the benefit between the synergies of the two funding streams. "

Political Group speakers

Paul RÃœBIG (AT) spoke for the EPP-ED group, congratulating the rapporteur and saying that we all wanted to live long and healthy lives: "It is important to look at the prevention of disease and at improving employment and jobs." He said research was the foundation for any social welfare policy. "After Thursday's vote, he wanted the programme to get started as soon as possible next year.

For the Socialist group Philippe BUSQUIN (PES, BE) said there had been an excellent spirit of cooperation, with compromise amendments from all the groups. "Let me say that as far as ESC is concerned, this is an essential new institution we too want it to work as well as possible, so it needs to be autonomous within scientific community." He said researchers should be given the status they deserved in society.

On stem cell research he supported the Industry Committee compromise, which represented continuity with the approach of the Sixth Framework Programme. He stressed the importance of the programme to link science and society, and regretted that the Council had cut its budget.

Vittorio PRODI (ALDE, IT), for the ALDE group, said there would be important benefits from the consensus reached: "This represents the search for the attainment of excellence at European level... We need to adjust to continental dimension of research otherwise we will be swept from scientific and political map of world." He also stressed the importance of scientific links to industry and in particular small businesses. Another key issue, he said, was linking science and society, including educating the public on analysing and managing risk.

David HAMMERSTEIN MINTZ (Greens/EFA, ES) believed that the Seventh Framework Programme reflects the European Union's strengths and weaknesses, as it proved that the EU wanted to act but did not succeed, for example in the area of Member States fully committing themselves to financing various programmes. The Greens believed that one ought to invest in renewable green technology in order to create jobs and a sustainable future rather than continuing the path of the dirty, old-style industrialists. Furthermore, Mr Hammerstein continued, the priority should be to create better social cohesion based on shared knowledge of technological data. Finally, he addressed the problem of transparency: the problem with the Sixth Framework Programme was that Parliament neither controlled the expenditure nor knew where it was going into.

After welcoming the Commission's efforts, Umberto GUIDONI (GUE/NGL, IT) continued that the European Union was missing out on an immense opportunity due to the limit on the budget. He continued that industrial research had been giving a too large priority and that one needed more research to benefit a wider group of people. Furthermore, on the issue of medical research and ethical problems, he agreed with the Commission that there was a need to further scientific and medical knowledge and to continue researching preventative measures. Concluding, Mr Guidoni stressed the importance of renewable energy which, according to them, had not received enough importance in the Programme; but in overall the Framework is a significant step forward.

Speaking for the UEN, Umberto PIRILLI (IT) welcomed the so-called creation of a European area of research. He stressed the importance of large-scale research but called on Member States to apply the rules in place in order to maximise research. Concluding, he said, that human beings are to always stand at the centre of research being carried out.

Gerard BATTEN (IND/DEM, UK) focussed on the need for alternative energy, stating that green energy is not enough to supply Britain. He supported France, who has recently built new nuclear reactors in order to supply most of their demand. Mr Batten supported the 50-Year-Plan to create safe nuclear energy as well as research into nuclear fusion. However, he did not agree that all further development of energy sources should be in the name of the European Union but rather that they should be conducted by independent national projects.

Lydia SCHENARDI (NI, FR) called upon the MEPs to support the proposition, in particular research into nuclear fusion and nuclear waste management. However, she pointed out that fourth generation reactors will not respond to all the problems and underscored that "enthusiasm for international scientific cooperation does not mean a lack of competition". Research into energy therefore increases the "strategic fight" more, according to the MEP. "We need to make sure that we don't mortgage our dependency on oil for another dependency", she concluded.

British speaker in the debate

John PURVIS (EPP-ED, UK) said that the ethical questions were very difficult and he respected the differing deep held views. It was clearly a matter of personal conscious. As a Christian, Mr Purvis outlined why the EU could fund research on embryonic stem cells citing the story of the Good Samaritan. Throughout history, it has been necessary to challenge the boundaries of scientific research to improve human life. It was "wholly appropriate" for the EU can fund embryonic stem cell research but it must be regulated.

Response to the debate

Rapporteur Janez BUZEK thanked the MEPs for the debate. He said that there was a consensus about the insufficient finds and that the increase in funding compared to the Sixth Framework Programme was not enough, judging this as a missed opportunity. Mr Buzek stressed the need for various objectives in order to succeed in the different areas of research, including excellence and human potential, health and energy. He, however, stated that in the current energy crisis there is a need for renewable energy and that includes green energy as well as nuclear energy and one cannot give either one up.

In his response to the debate, Commissioner Potocnik said that on the budget for FP7, there was only a 2 per cent difference between the institutions and this could be resolved. He welcomed the idea that 15 per cent of the total budget should be for SMEs but the important was to simplify access to this funding. On energy, the Commissioner noted the progress made in this area towards a EU energy market and stressed that the challenges of climate change were often underestimated. On embryonic stem cell research, he said that there was a consensus that the best results would come from a "combination of research efforts across countries". He also cited the latest Eurobarometer poll which indicated that most people were in favour of such research under regulation. The new European Research Council would enable better international co-operation and the Commissioner underlined that the EU faced global challenges in terms of research and development spending and infrastructure. He concluded that the programme "can change European reality".

The vote will take place on Thursday 15 June 2006.

European Parliament
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