Brussels, 21 Apr 2004
The European Commission has responded to a report by the Court of Auditors criticising various aspects of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) by highlighting the simplifications made to the research programme, implemented under FP6.
The main criticism in the Court of Auditors' report is the complexity of FP5. This showed itself in many different aspects of the programme, according to the audit, including in the rules for fixing the financial participation of the European Commission, the management of FP5's seven specific programmes by five Directorates-General, and systems for reporting to management within the DGs. These complexities, in turn, led to a delay of eight to nine months from the reception of proposals to the signing of contracts, and errors in the testing of the legality and regularity of cost claims.
'The Commission has initiated an in-depth reform of the contractual and financial arrangements for Community research programmes as part of FP6,' states the Commission in its 29 page response to the Court of Auditors' report. 'FP6 has resulted in major simplification as regards implementation of research actions. [...] The cost reimbursement system set up for FP6 is easier to implement from the perspective of participants and Commission departments alike. As such, it should protect the financial interests of the Community more effectively.'
A Commission proposal to simplify the cost systems for FP6 still further, in line with previous recommendations by the Court, was in fact rejected by both the Parliament and the Council.
In response to the report's dissatisfaction with the involvement of five DGs in the management of the programmes, the Commission states that this structure 'has enabled synergies to be developed between research and other Community policies.' The Commission adds that the deployment of management instruments, including centralised support functions, 'reflects the Commission's policy of increased coordination between departments.'
The Court of Auditors notes that the Commission did not develop a common or integrated information technology (IT) system for the duration of FP5. The systems employed were 'inadequate, not least because of insufficient investment,' reads the audit. The Commission's response notes that IT support in FP5 compares favourably to that in FP4, and pledges the implementation of a new IT system in 2004. Indeed, the 'electronic online proposal preparations and submission' system is now operational for all calls for proposals.
The Commission acknowledges the problem of inaccurate claims by beneficiaries, and has taken steps to increase controls under FP6. The problem under FP5 was that the Community's financial contribution was paid on the basis of eligible costs incurred, as declared by the beneficiaries. 'The accuracy of these costs and their conformity with the contractual provisions cannot be completely and accurately verified by the Commission prior to the authorisation of payments,' states the Commission. The requirement for audit certificates from the beneficiaries prior to reimbursement has been introduced in FP6.
The Commission concludes by offering the guarantee that it will 'ensure that the Framework Programmes' management model continues to develop, including when the proposal is put forward for the future FP7, focusing in particular on streamlining procedures.'
To access the Court of Auditors' report and the Commission's replies, please consult the following web address: