Brussels, 26 January 2006
ITRE meeting – European Parliament
Brussels, 26 January 2006
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to meet you today and to have an exchange of views on the Seventh Framework Programme.
I should like in the first place to inform you where the Commission stands with the financial perspectives negotiation. Then I will present to you some broad ideas I have on what will be important for the revised proposal and finally to comment shortly the main issues coming out of Mr Buzek’s report as I see them.
Allow me however, to make the essential point of my intervention before you today at this stage.
The calendar for the adoption of FP7 is now extremely tight compared with the previous Framework Programmes. If we are to deliver a Framework Programme in time for 2007, this could mean we need an agreement in October, we must all ensure that there are no delays in the procedure on either side. This is an absolute pre-condition for a successful transition from the existing programme to the new one. It is in our common interest that you consider the existing proposal from the Commission as a serious one. It will of course be subject to a revision given the budgetary changes but it should not undergo any major changes of substance. It is therefore essential that you consider the adoption of Mr Buzek’s report in the plenary as early as possible.
Financial perspectives negotiations
As you know the EU Council agreement did not represent all that we wanted for research. However, it was explicitly and clearly recognised that EU research is “one of the most promising and effective drivers of innovation and growth”.
Last week in Strasbourg the Parliament said NO to the agreement reached by the December Council. A resolution adopted with 541 votes in favour, 56 against and 76 abstentions does not need any further comment. Nevertheless, the Parliament has welcomed the fact that the Council managed to come up with a position which allows the opening of negotiations. I see this as a positive and good sign.
And now, let me explain to you briefly what the Commission is doing at present. As you know, an amended text of the Inter-institutional agreement is expected to be ready by 1st February as a basis for discussion.
The possible breakdown within Heading IA is of course not yet ready. Here the Commission has to follow a horizontal approach. That means that no one can choose his own path.
In working on these questions we face a possible conflict between the quality of the final outcome of the inter-institutional agreement and speed, since we need this inter-institutional agreement to have certainty about the budgetary allocation.
As you can imagine, the situation varies considerably according to the different sectors concerned, as well as the status of the ongoing procedures and it is clear that one of the most difficult cases is represented by Heading IA, as a wide range of policies are involved. I am aware of the importance which this Committee and the Parliament attach to these policies and to the Lisbon process generally. This is also a priority for the Commission and, for this reason, I am examining this aspect very closely with my colleagues.
FP7 revised proposal
I want to continue to work in very close cooperation with you throughout the finalisation of FP7. For this reason, I am here today. I know that there are a number of questions and uncertainties, and I cannot answer them all, but I will try to answer as many as I can. I do so because it is vital that the Parliament should be able to continue its crucial work in examining the FP proposals and move as smoothly and as quickly as you are able to the key step of adopting your opinion.
The signal from the Council was that, even if the budget will be reduced, the essential structure should be maintained and changes in the content limited. Indeed, in this way, you as well as the Council can consolidate the work you have undertaken. And this is also possible thanks to the broad and almost unanimous support we have received so far from the Parliament with the Locatelli report, the Böge resolution and now with the Buzek draft report.
For this reason, it is important for the Commission to ensure the quickest decision-making process possible, and this is possible only if the Parliament continues the debate on FP7 and on the Specific Programmes, even if the budgetary situation is unclear. The Commission will do its best to help you.
Allow me to say at this stage one more thing which I find very important as well. We need to look at the FP7 proposal as an integral package consisting of a Framework Programme, the Specific Programmes and the Rules for Participation. With the adoption by the Commission in the next few days of the Euratom rules for participation, all the necessary proposals for legal instruments will be on the table. The Commission delivered in time on all three components of the package and we need to pay full attention that there is no time slippage in either of them so as not to call into question our common target date for FP7.
Following the broad consensus I have felt until now, I can assure you that it is my intention to maintain the structure and the essential philosophy. Bearing in mind the important messages that I and my services have received so far from you:
R&D and the Annual Progress Report on Lisbon Strategy
In parallel to all this we will also have to work more and better with the Member States to realise a true European Research Area and for this your support is of paramount importance. This will happen through:
- improving the framework conditions for research and innovation;
- structuring actions for the European research area (infrastructure, opening and coordination of national programmes).
The Commission report provides a concise analysis of the strong and weak points of each Member State’s National Reform Programme and where the EU needs to go next. The main message is that the Member States need to take up the challenge they identified in almost all cases as the most important one, i.e. they have to commit more strongly to research and innovation. This includes setting clear targets for R&D investment in 2010 by the Spring European Council. In many cases, this implies important increases in investment into R&D. I should also underline the other main messages on R&D: doubling from 12% to 25% of the share of state aid allocated to R&D as well as increasing the share of structural funding going to R&D, innovation and new communication technologies.
Allow me to mention at this point also the report presented last week by the independent authoritative expert group chaired by the former Finnish Prime Minister Mr Esko Aho. I asked them to provide some forward-looking insight into what Europe needs at this stage in research field to significantly boost its growth and employment.
Mr Aho, who will come to ITRE to present the findings and recommendations of his group at your next meeting early next week, suggests a four-pronged strategy focusing on the creation of innovation friendly markets, strengthening R&D resources, increasing structural mobility as well as fostering culture that celebrates innovation. The group calls for a Pact on Research and Innovation to be signed by political, business and social leaders to show their commitment to creating innovative Europe, through which the proposed strategy could be implemented.
I believe these suggestions deserve our utmost attention in the coming months. They are a very valuable and concrete contribution to the current debate on how to « move Europe into a higher gear ». I will be eager to learn about the reaction of your committee to these suggestions.
The Buzek report
And now I would like to make a few comments on your rapporteur’s draft report on FP7 proposal.
Let me start by saying that your strong support for our proposal is very important. The fact that you agree with its structure, its objectives and the new initiatives is now facilitating our work in the modified proposal, and I hope that you are going to continue the debate in the forthcoming weeks.
Nevertheless, without entering into specific and detailed analysis of the amendments proposed in the report, I would like to make some general comments on a few aspects that are of concern. I make these comments in the firm belief that it is good to have divergent opinions to bring forward our debate on our common cause: the success of FP7.
One of the most difficult points concerns the implementation of the ERC. The rapporteur proposes a legal independent structure under Article 171. This is of course a possibility but I am worried both about political considerations, not related to scientific excellence that might be exerted in the management of the ERC and practical considerations. On the first one: Issues like a policy of “just return” will undermine the essence of the ERC which is a fair pan-European competition on the basis of scientific excellence. On the second one: If we want to have ERC in 2007, executive agency is the only realistic option that can be implemented the short time left. If however we want to delay its entry into force we can discuss Article 171 but this will mean ERC will become operational only later.
Despite this, I am ready to consider the possibility of using Art.171 following a review of structures and mechanisms in the context of the independent interim evaluation of the FP, by 2010. This review should be done against the key principles of the ERC (excellence, autonomy, efficiency) and if it indicates that there should be a transition to a different structure under 171 that should then be done.
Now let me turn to another issue. It is very difficult for me to accept the logic of “cost effectiveness”, and I have serious doubts about how it could be implemented. The aim is not lowest cost inputs but most effective use of Community funds in terms of outcomes. Excellence is the criterion that applies to the FP7 and on which its success depends.
The report could also give a more prominent place to the strategic objectives of strengthening scientific excellence, to the importance of consolidating and furthering the European Research Area as well as to levering and complementing national and private research efforts.
Another important point refers to the expression “young researchers” often utilised in Mr. Buzek’s report. I understand and fully share his concerns. However, in the FP7 proposal we have not used the concept of “young researchers”, since this, especially when coupled to an age limit, would raise legal problems on grounds of age discrimination. Instead, since FP6, the concept of the length of research experience is used and has proved to be more appropriate.
Finally, the last general comment concerns the link between CIP and FP7 made by the rapporteur. FP7 focuses on research projects involving research organisations and enterprises directly, while CIP focuses on supporting projects to promote the take up of existing technologies. The principle here is to achieve complementarity between the two programmes.
For example, as regards the type of activity, FP7 will fund research and technological development while CIP will focus on activities downstream of research, i.e. supporting market take-up of existing technologies. As regards SMEs for example, FP7 will include a specific scheme to help SMEs outsource research actions while CIP will support financial instruments (for example seed capital, loans, guarantees) to improve their access to external financial sources. Complementarity of actions will also be ensured in the field of dissemination and knowledge-transfer and in the field of encouraging SMEs to participate in FP7.
I allowed myself to stress and highlight these elements because of the excellent cooperation and openness we have. And I really think that the draft report gives a very positive message for the future of the European research and the path we need to take towards becoming a genuine knowledge society.
Let me conclude by saying that we must all ensure, the Parliament and the Commission, that this process is a successful one, and that the FP7 can be adopted by the European Parliament and by the Council in order for operations to begin in 2007.
This is the reason why I have been insisting on the importance of not giving up the debate at Parliament level, because, without it, there is no chance to deliver a successful FP7. I invite you to speed up the calendar for the adoption of your report in the first reading so that the vote in the plenary can take place as soon as possible.
Let me thank you for the opportunity you gave me to have an exchange of views with you this morning and allow me to tell you that you have done excellent work so far.
Thank you very much for your attention.