Brussels, 23 April 2004
Today the European Commission presented a report on the implementation of the "Life Sciences & Biotechnology Strategy" adopted in 2002. The report highlights that progress has been made, in regards to biotechnology sector players as well as the public and business stakeholders, on the EU action plan's recommendations. Highlights over the last 12 months include the launch of a high level advisory group on "Competitiveness in Biotechnology", the completion of an EU regulatory framework for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and initiatives to boost research and increase the number of scientists in the biotech sector. The progress report identifies upcoming issues, including genetic testing and animal biotechnology. Biotechnology covers a wide range of powerful, but also sometimes controversial, technologies. It can make a vital contribution towards the long-term future of industries such as pharmaceuticals, food, agriculture, energy, textiles and chemicals. But success in developing biotechnology also depends on finding solutions to the significant ethical, societal, economic and environmental issues it throws up. The EU strategy provides a consistent approach to these challenges.
Biotech players on board
In adopting the Strategy, European leaders recognised that many decision-makers in both government and the private sector have to play a more active role in its implementation. This is now starting to happen in the Member States. The process should be supported by the new "Competitiveness in Biotechnology" advisory group. The group, which includes business leaders and academics, is helping to identify issues affecting European competitiveness.
Progress on GMO legislation, slowdown on intellectual property rights
According to the Commission's report (1) , last year saw both successes and disappointments. Successes ranged from the completion, at both the EU and national level, of the EU's reformed regulatory framework for GMOs, to initiatives to reverse the biotechnology brain-drain by boosting R&D funding and making Europe more attractive to scientists.
Disappointments included Member States' lack of agreement on a Community Patent and the ongoing failure of many Member States to implement agreed legislation to clarify intellectual property rights concerning biotechnology inventions.
The financial situation faced by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) involved in biotechnology is less critical than previously feared, but still needs to be carefully watched for signs of improvement.
The report provides a comprehensive and detailed discussion of the state of the sector. It places particular weight on the need for Member States to implement and apply GMO legislation for which they themselves have called.
EU-funded research in life sciences and biotechnology
The Report notes the continuing support for Life Sciences and Biotechnology research. Under the EU 6th Framework Programme for Research, financial support to research in this area has been boosted by some 20% compared with the previous Framework Programme. In the first year of the programme more than €810 million was allocated to research in the areas of "life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health" and "food quality and safety". More than 00 laboratories and companies, including about 400 SMEs, are involved. As human resources and mobility of researchers are key elements in the acquisition and transfer of knowledge, the Commission has also increased the budget for the area of "human resources and mobility" to €1.5 billion.
2004 and beyond
The Report also sets out actions for 2004 and beyond and considers newly emerging, but potentially controversial issues such as genetic testing and animal biotechnology. One important continuing challenge is ensuring that the Strategy is implemented in a coherent way across the Union. To support this, the Commission proposes a more concerted effort between the Commission, Member States and the private sector, focusing on areas where responsibilities are less centralised. The development of biotechnology policy must retain a prominent place on the EU's political, economic and social agenda. The Commission therefore expects both the Council and the European Parliament to send a clear signal that biotechnology remains a high priority.
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(1) Commission Report to the European Parliament, to the Council and to the European Economic and Social Committee: Life Sciences and Biotechnology: a strategy for Europe - Second Progress Report and Future Orientations ( COM/2004/250 )