Brussels, 10 Sep 2004
The European Commission has responded to the recommendations of the high level panel of experts, led by Ramon Marimon, on the new instruments of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). In a communication and working document, the Commission reacts to each individual recommendation, often underlining that it is aware of problems and has taken moves to tackle them. The paper also outlines corrective measures planned for the future.
The Commission welcomes one of the panel's main messages - that the objectives of the new instruments (Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence) are valid, and that their design is compatible with the idea of establishing a European Research Area. It is, however, the definition and application of these instruments that has led to dissatisfaction among some quarters of the European research community.
The Commission also believes that many of the problems that have arisen are likely to disappear as the research community becomes more familiar with the new instruments. This evaluation was, after all, carried out during the year when the first Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence were launched.
The Commission's working document starts by re-stating that the new instruments will continue during the Seventh Programme (FP7). This should be welcomed by researchers, who were found by the Marimon panel to covet continuity.
Actions will, however, be taken in order to provide further classification of the instruments according to their objectives and specific characteristics. 'The Commission recognises that a clear differentiation of the new instruments according to their specific objectives has not always been made and implemented as clearly as desirable,' states the Commission paper.
'This lack of adequate distinction between the new instruments and between them and traditional instruments, has led to uncertainty with regard to the context, the conditions and the exact objectives with regard to which each of them ought to be used, and this uncertainty has been further exacerbated by the fact that the opening-up of various thematic areas to several instruments could give the impression that these were to a large extent interchangeable,' continues the Commission.
In order to address this and other misconceptions, the Commission intends to publish a summary table restating the instruments' specific objectives, expected scope and activities covered by EU funds, as well as the form of Community financing that is applicable and the context in which an instrument is likely to be used.
One recommendation by the expert panel that is rejected entirely by the Commission relates to flexibility and the selection of objectives and instruments. The Marimon report stated: 'The European Commission should specify the portfolio of instruments available and the strategic objectives. Participants on the other hand should define the specific research objectives they will pursue and why this can best be met by the instrument they have chosen.'
The Commission claims that this proposal is 'tantamount to calling into question the very principle of the work programmes on which the Union's research programmes are based.' It emphasises that the work programmes are drawn up in collaboration with advisory boards, and claims that giving participants the freedom to define research objectives would lead to a reduction in the effectiveness of EU support for research. This would be the unavoidable result of spreading resources over too many themes, says the Commission. Similarly, leaving participants to use an instrument of their choosing 'would make arbitration between the many proposals very difficult', states the Commission.
Addressing the issues of size and critical mass with regard to the new instruments is, however, accepted by the Commission as necessary. It concedes that there has been confusion among researchers, and re-emphasises that the new instruments should not simply be understood as 'large instruments'. 'The Commission stresses the need to separate the concepts of 'size' (number of partners and volume of resources applied) and 'instrument': a larger size in terms of volume of resources of partnership is only a consequence of the nature of the project and does not suffice to define the instrument,' reads the Commission paper. The Commission highlights how it has made efforts to clarify these issues with the inclusion of a 'read this first' notice in the guide for proposers and the provision of 'good examples' of Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects.
Furthermore, the Commission pledges to take further action to clear up the misconception that Integrated Projects are simply a larger version of an older instrument, the specific targeted research project, or STREP.
Both the Commission and the expert panel recognise that the STREPs remain popular among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), young research teams and researchers in the new EU Member States. While adamant that the proportion of resources allocated to the new instruments and the older instruments (which favours the former) has been in line with the objective of structuring and integrating the European Research Area (ERA), the Commission does offer the prospect that 'the proportion of financial resources allocated to STREPS could be increased in certain priority thematic areas.'
The Commission also pledges to do more to encourage the participation of SMEs in EU research programmes during FP7.
The Commission is reluctant to fully embrace the two-step evaluation procedure, as recommended by the Marimon panel. The recommendation was made with a view to reducing costs for participants. However, the Commission's experience of this procedure thus far is that it has led to longer delays in processing the proposals and a significantly increased workload.
The Commission concludes by noting that the recommendations and conclusions from the mid-term evaluation 'bear out to an important extent the observations it has been able to make since the entry into force of the Framework Programme and emphasises that many 'corrective measures' have already been adopted accordingly. The Commission undertakes to continue to implementation of these 'corrective measures' to strengthen them where necessary and to adopt additional measures as and when required.'
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