Brussels, 03 May 2005
The environmental and sustainability aspects of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) came under scrutiny at a conference organised by The Greens and the European Free Alliance (EFA) in the European Parliament in Brussels on 2 May.
Issues such as nuclear research, health, climate change and nanotechnology were touched upon by politicians, researchers and lobbyists. While all agreed that FP7 should have a strong sustainability focus, opinions differed as to how evident such a focus is in the proposal published on 6 April.
Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik and Polish MEP and rapporteur on FP7 Jerzy Buzek received sceptical responses to their claims of having 'green' credentials. Mr Potocnik had told the audience that 'if any area is horizontally present in all research priorities it's environmental issues', while Mr Buzek said that he had spent much of his career implementing the results of environmental research, adding: 'So you can treat me as one of the Greens. All of us are Greens today!'
Mr Buzek declared that the Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee has 'a good opinion in general on the proposals', but that it would like to make 'a few hundred amendments'. Some of these changes affect very sensitive issues, said the MEP, who gave the examples of the proportion of funding allocated to nuclear energy versus renewable energy, stem cell research and genetic modification.
The energy aspect was picked up by a number of other participants. Hans Josef Fell, a Green MP in the German government claimed that the increase in funding for nuclear funding foreseen in the FP7 proposal is ten times that of the increase for renewable energy. He also objected to spending ten billion euro of EU money on the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER), which, he claimed, 'will not provide anything over the next 50 years', whereas 'we need something quick'.
Mr Potocnik responded by saying that the waiting period is more likely to be 30 years than 50 years, but that in any case, 'Our responsibility goes further than 30 years.'
The difficulty of assessing the desirability of ITER from an environmental point of view was summed up by Michaël Braun, who has recently completed a study on the FP7 proposals for the German Green Party. 'I believe, from a commercial point of view, that renewables are the ones to invest in [not nuclear fusion or fission], because these have already come out of the research lab. I have no answer to the fusion question. It won't provide anything in the near future, but can we afford to step out of it?' he said.
Balancing commercial and sustainability objectives was paramount for the Commission during the writing of the FP7 proposal, said Mr Potocnik. FP7 does have more of an industry focus than its predecessors, said the Commissioner, but it is nonetheless important to 'keep an eye' on sustainability, he said. In response to a question from Jerzy Buzek on the Commission's priorities within the nine research priorities outlined in the proposal, Mr Potocnik said that they vary according to criteria. While the priorities for competitiveness may be information technology and biotechnology, the priorities for sustainability are health and the environment, he said.
A number of participants raised concerns over the inclusion of security research within the framework programme for the first time. Most objections centred on the worry that EU funds would be used to support military research. The Commissioner reassured those present that no military research would be funded under FP7, but this was not enough to satisfy Doug Parr, Chief Scientist with Greenpeace UK. He appealed for this priority to be replaced with research into conflict resolution and social processes.
Dr Parr claimed that the whole premise behind the FP7 proposal is wrong. 'It starts with the technologies and not the issues,' he said. He gave the examples of information and communication technologies and nanotechnology. Each of these themes is included as a research priority, but according to Dr Parr, they are regarded as ends in themselves. These technologies should instead be used to address problems, he said.
The proposal also lacks a sufficient focus on social sciences, water and waste, gives too much power to the corporate sector and is devoid of a vision, added Dr Parr. The Greenpeace alternative proposal incorporates the following research priorities: climate change and energy; conflict resolution and social processes; public health and wellbeing; agriculture, land-use and fisheries; and responsible resource use. 'We should recast FP7 - start with the goals, which are environmental, social and public health goals,' said Dr Parr.
Dr Parr also claimed that a 'real' public consultation on FP7 would be unlikely to support the proposal as it currently stands, and called on the European Parliament to open up European research funding to the influence of civil society.
Discussions also took place on the budget for FP7. 'We talk about increasing the budget as if by doing that we'll get the results we want as if by magic,' said Spanish MEP David Hammerstein. Hans Josef Fell picked up on this point, saying that an agreement on increasing the EU research budget in Germany is likely to depend upon ministers and MPs being able to recognise that a higher budget will provide added value, and will be used efficiently. Mr Potocnik reeled off ten reasons why it is necessary to increase the budget, telling participants that 'this is not ultimately a question of research and development, but of our society and how it should develop in the future.'