Brussels, 10th March 2004
The Competitiveness Council will discuss the Commission Communication "Europe and basic research". The Communication aims to encourage international and European scientific co-operation to further the excellence of basic research in Europe. The Council's draft conclusions will consider ways of enhancing Europe's levels of creativity and excellence in basic research by potentially creating a new facility involving the European scientific community, with specific funding for basic research. Reaffirming the importance of private sector involvement in European basic research, providing suggestions on how to strengthen Europe's research performance and supporting transfer of knowledge and co-operation between researchers and entrepreneurs are also likely to be included.
European Space Policy
The Council will also discuss the EU White Paper on space policy, which aims to promote Europe's independent access to space and space technology as well as attracting more young people into science careers and strengthening European excellence in space science. The Council will also address progress following the Commission Communication on GMES, the EU "Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security" initiative.
Ministers at the Council will exchange views on a series of questions involving the Space White Paper priorities such as the respective roles and responsibilities of the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA) and the time scale and approach to further short-term space initiatives, possibly via an informal "Space Council". Ministers will also discuss which lines of action the Commission could begin work on this year and the approach the Commission should adopt for space projects included under the "Quick Start initiative", such as GMES.
Input from the Competitiveness Council to the Spring Council
At the heart of the challenge to meet the March 2000 Lisbon Council goal, of turning Europe into the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, is the promotion of conditions which foster research and innovation. Key steps in this direction involve the implementation of the EU action plan to raise investment to 3% of EU average Gross Domestic Product by 2010.
During lunch, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin will also present Ministers with the state of play of negotiations on the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) research project on nuclear fusion energy. ITER will provide a major step forward for the advancement of fusion science and technology on the way towards fusion electricity production. The European Union, Japan, Russia, China, South Korea and the United States are partners in the negotiations to jointly construct and operate ITER. The construction of ITER is estimated to cost around €4.5 billion.
The main outstanding issue is the choice between the European candidate site of Cadarache (France), which is unanimously backed by the EU Council of Ministers, and the other candidate site of Rokkasho-Mura in Northern Japan. Consensus could not be reached at a Ministerial meeting held in Washington on December 20th 2003, nor at a further technical meeting held in Vienna on February 21st 2004. ITER partners are therefore further considering the characteristics of the two candidate sites, while also exploring the potential for consensus on a broader approach including other complementary elements of nuclear fusion research.
The Commission is actively contributing to these discussions in order to reach a consensus for ITER in Europe, in line with its negotiation mandate and the Council's unanimous support.