Brussels, 30 Oct 2002
Speaking candidly to ministers from the EU's candidate countries on 29 October, President of the European Commission Romano Prodi asked them to do everything they can to meet the three per cent research spending target and to prevent brain drain from Europe to the USA.
Mr Prodi spoke to the ministers after they and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin had signed an association agreement for the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The agreement will see the applicant countries participating in FP6 on an equal footing with the EU Member States for the first time.
'Following the European Council on 25 and 26 October, this is the concrete nitty gritty reality, designed to create a European Research Area,' said Mr Busquin. 'Research is the first area where enlargement becomes a reality, well in advance of the accession schedule. This is recognition of the scientific potential that candidate countries possess,' he said.
Lucija Cok, Minister of Education, Science and Sport in Slovenia ('which you must not mix up with Slovakia,' she joked), welcomed the signature of the agreement, saying that people will be now be coming together because of their capabilities and not their country.
Assessing what difference EU enlargement will make to the field of research and development (R&D) now that the candidate countries are already fully integrated in the field, Andras Siegler, Deputy State Secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of Education said that 'the focus will be on the uses of membership, not the problems of enlargement.' He added that, in his opinion, more attention will be given to science and education in an enlarged EU. 'It's not just about agriculture. Of course that's very important, but it's not everything,' he added.
Jan Frackowiak, Undersecretary of State at the State Committee for scientific research in Poland, thanked the Commission and specifically Commissioner Busquin for their efforts in negotiating a reduction in participation costs during the first two years of FP6. 'Without this reduction, many countries would have had difficulties,' he said. The reduction amounts to 30 per cent of costs in the first year of FP6, and 20 per cent in the second.
While the accession countries are of course grateful for any reduction in membership fees to FP6, Lucija Cok emphasised that 'we want to improve conditions in our own countries rather than depending on foreign money.'
Turning to Mr Prodi's concern regarding brain drain, this time within the EU, opinions were divided. While some countries may fear the allure of Germany, one of the EU's most affluent Member States and a close neighbour for many of the candidate countries, Poland, an immediate neighbour, is working together with Germany to stave off brain drain, explained Jan Frackowiak. Initiatives include re-establishment grants.
Slovakian Minister of Education, Martin Fronc maintained that 'brain drain is a very serious problem' however. Many young Slovaks are choosing to study over the border in the Czech Republic. The positive aspect to this is that Slovakia is now examining how it can improve conditions for its students.
European integration has also acted as a stimulant for Maltese research policy. Malta's problem is that of finding critical mass to participate in projects, explained Junior Minister for Science and Research, Jesmond Mugliett. 'We are now overcoming a problem which had to be overcome anyway, that of fragmentation,' he said.
Earlier on in the meeting, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Günther Verheugen had been present, and had discussed the issue of using structural funds to strengthen research infrastructures in the future. This would go some way to easing Estonia's concern. While Estonia 'does not fear being at a lower starting point in FP6,' explained Estonian Minister of Education Mailis Rand, 'on an equal playing ground we have to compete in an expensive market and we do not have the infrastructure.'
For further information on the candidate countries and FP6, please visit http://www.cordis.lu/candidate_countries