Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: allies in building the European Research Area, Inauguration of COST Exhibition – a vision for European Science (EP)

April 20, 2006

Brussels, 18 April 2006

Inauguration of COST Exhibition – a vision for European Science (EP)
Brussels, 18 April 2006

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be invited to the opening of this COST exhibition at the European Parliament.

It would be difficult to choose a better timing and venue.

Parliament is debating at this very moment the proposal for the 7th Research Framework Programme.

The fact that Members of Parliament have submitted more than 1000 amendments is a clear sign of the importance they attach to research.

FP7 will be more than a funding programme. With the Parliament’s support, FP7 will be the expression of the European Union’s objective to become a true knowledge society, building on a European Research Area.

The fundamental role that research plays for Europe’s sustainable prosperity is increasingly recognised.

At their December European Council, European leaders earmarked research investment as a priority. They acknowledged that EU research is one of the most promising and effective drivers for innovation and growth.

Now, Parliament has succeeded in adding €300 million to what the Council had agreed.

The addition of this €300 million is an important indication of where the political priorities lie and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Parliament on this result. It is a result which defies a lot of sceptics, if I may say.

With Parliament’s support, we now have to ensure that an efficient, effective and user-friendly FP7 will start on time – we need to and we can demonstrate that EU research funding makes the difference.

Obviously, the budget available for FP7 will be, by itself, far from sufficient to reach the 3% R&D investment target.

To reach that target, to which all Member States are committed, we will need to invest more and better in research and development.

By investing better, I also mean investing with greater coherence at European level.

And this is where COST comes in.

COST was launched in 1971 to promote cooperation among researchers across Europe. As such, it is a long time ally of the European Communities in fighting fragmentation of research.

This was long before the European Research Area acted as the reference framework for research policy in Europe, as it does today.

One can think of publicly-supported European research as a living ecosystem – an ecosystem characterised by a high degree of diversity in the species that make it up.

In addition to many national and regional policies and programmes and the many bilateral links between them, there is a variety of actions with a European vocation.

COST was one of the first, but there are also, for example, EUREKA networks, the inter-governmental research organisations like CERN, EMBL and ESA, and the activities of the European Science Foundation.

The Research Framework Programme is the EU’s policy instrument to foster scientific excellence through cooperation and competition.

Building the European Research Area is a real illustration of deriving strength from unity in diversity.

Like any living organism, European research is subject to evolution and change. Evolution is a necessary condition for its vitality.

This is certainly the case for the Framework Programme. The proposal for the 7th Framework Programme introduces new approaches such as the European Research Council, Joint Technology Initiatives, ERANET + schemes, etc.

It is also the case for COST.

I would like to take this opportunity for expressing my appreciation to COST leaders for their determined efforts to modernise this organisation over the last few years.

I would like to mention in particular Professor Fedi, his predecessor Mr. Diehl, and Professor Andersson, but there are probably many other people involved as well.

Clear signs of this reform are the transfer of the scientific and administrative support to COST from the European Commission to the European Science Foundation.

Another visible area of reform is that of “science management” where best scientific practice measures have been or are being put in place.

The decision to restructure the COST scientific domains and reduce their number, through the establishment of new Domain Committees, prepares COST for facing up to the scientific and technological challenges of the 21st century. These challenges ask for truly multidisciplinary approaches. An external high-level review of COST conducted last year was largely positive.

I am pleased that, in line with the recommendation of this mid-term review, COST now enjoys the maximum possible funding of €80 million foreseen in FP6 to support the COST scientific community via the European Science Foundation.

The discontinuation of the COST secretariat, which the Commission hosted for some 25 years, should not be seen as a break in the long-lived cooperation between COST and the Commission.

Far from it.

Within the COST framework, approximately 200 networks are active, involving some 25,000 researchers.

If all these researchers act as true ambassadors for European Research, we can go a long way to making the European Research Area a reality. A living organism full of vitality, constantly responding to new challenges and opportunities.

The new partnership between the three stakeholders – the Commission, COST and the ESF – can represent significant potential added value.

I am confident it can make COST and the ESF, which both foster the networking of researchers, more complementary, between themselves and vis-à-vis the different actions in the Framework Programme.

Accordingly, COST is identified in the Commission proposal for the FP7 Specific Programme on ‘Cooperation’ under the heading ‘Co-ordination of non-Community research Programmes’.

The Commission proposes financial support to enable COST to contribute to the coordination of and exchanges between nationally funded research teams.

I would like to mention two specific areas in which the flexible, bottom-up nature of COST could prove to add real value.

One is the openness to new scientific communities, in particular those in the EU’s neighbouring countries. Links with the Balkan countries are very dear to me, but there are also the Mediterranean countries.

The other is the outreach to young researchers. I would hope that COST is able to reach out to many young researchers and to give them a taste of European research.

And once tasted, for them to want more.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope the exhibition we will see later this evening will also give us a taste of what COST stands for.

I can only encourage actions like this, which focus on the results of European actions in the field of research cooperation – in this case achieved through COST.

If COST can demonstrate that the Europe of research would be different without it, and if we all together can demonstrate that European society would be different without European research, I strongly believe we will do Europe and its citizens a great service.

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/240 Date: 19/04/2006

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