Brussels, 17 Jun 2004
EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin launched discussions on the future EU research policy on 16 June with his presentation of a Commission communication. The Commission's proposals include new technology partnerships, a new agency to support basic research, and a new management structure for EU funded initiatives.
The document sets out to justify the doubling of the EU research budget, for which the Commission is calling. It then outlines the structure of the next research funding programme, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and introduces new management procedures for projects that would see the Commission sometimes taking a back seat.
'The new Treaty will contain a new article on a European Research area. This is a new concept, we are moving into a new era,' said Mr Busquin, introducing the Commission's proposals. 'We must justify the doubling of the R&D [research and development] budget, and must adopt a new approach,' he added.
The full College of Commissioners is in agreement on the need for increased research spending, said Mr Busquin. They are all convinced that if we are to have a good industrial policy, it needs underpinning with R&D, he elaborated.
A further justification for increased investment is that the costs of carrying out R&D have risen considerably, claimed the Commissioner.
As outlined in the Commission's financial perspectives communication, published in February, FP7 is likely to take the form a six plus two structure. This six major axes will be:
- creating poles of excellence;
- launching technological initiatives in key industrial areas;
- stimulating competition between fundamental research teams;
- reinforcing human resources;
- developing research infrastructures of European interest;
- reinforcing coordination of national programmes.
The 'plus two' refers to the two relatively new areas to receive EU research funding - space and security.
The technological initiatives are likely to resemble the Technology Platforms already in existence (bringing together companies, research institutions, financial organisations and regulatory authorities), but on a larger scale. The communication describes them as 'large-scale 'joint technology initiatives'', and explains that their implementation would be based on Article 171 in the Treaty. The Article allows the EU to 'set up joint undertakings or any other structure necessary for the efficient execution of Community research, technological development and demonstration programmes.'
Stimulating competition between fundamental research teams is likely to be done through a European Research Council, or similar. Basic research is currently supported at national level, but is not given enough visibility in terms of quality, said Mr Busquin. 'The Dutch Presidency has this file on its desk and they are interested in getting moving on it by the end of the year,' the Commissioner added. An initial task is expected to be the establishment of an agency.
The new aspect in the communication relates to management. 'One of the criticisms of the Sixth Framework Programme is that our decision making processes are a bit cumbersome,' said Mr Busquin. The attempt to streamline the process involves several new approaches to management that have been grouped under three headings by the Commission: 'management in partnership', 'externalised management' and 'Commission management'.
Management in partnership would involve Member States, research stakeholders and the Commission, and would be used for activities carried out to strengthen the coherence between public and private research efforts, or coherence between Member States' technology policies. Within this category, management structures would vary according to whether actions are being implemented under Article 171, Article 169 or otherwise. These actions are all likely to involve the mobilisation of a critical mass of resources in financial engineering schemes involving the European Investment Bank and public and private funding.
Externalised management would be used to support individual research teams and researchers, and would be used by a European Research Council.
Management by the Commission would be used to support collaborative research, as has been the case under previous framework programmes. Talks that do not require the direct involvement of Commission staff will be entrusted to an external body.
It is not yet known who will preside over discussions on FP7 once the new Commission is formed later this year. Mr Busquin said on 16 June that while he is very likely to be offered a seat in the European Parliament, having been elected as the first deputy for his political party, the Socialist Party, he would prefer to first wait to see who the next Belgian Commissioner will be. If a Belgian is selected as the Commission President, as many now expect, Mr Busquin will automatically lose his position within the Commission. If the Presidency goes to someone of another nationality, Mr Busquin believes that he has a good chance of being nominated as Belgium's Commissioner for the next term. 'Whether I would continue as Research Commissioner is not for me to decide,' he added. To see the Commission communication, please visit: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/futur e/pdf/com-2004-353_en.pdf