Committee of Senior Officials for Scientific and Technical Research (COST) Gets Independent Panel Endorsement, Launches 3 New Actions, at 147th Meeting

March 11, 2002

Brussels, 08 March 2002

147th Meeting of the Committee of Senior Officials
for Scientific and Technical Research (COST)
Brussels 7/8 March 2002

Independent Assessment Panel evaluated COST:
"COST delivers on priorities of the European Research Area"

"COST should continue and should be encouraged to develop" - this is the core message a panel of independent scientific experts is sending to Research Ministers of all COST Member countries.

COST provided "an openness and quality of access to activities in a way that is probably unique amongst current S&T co-operation modalities", the four experts from Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain conclude in their Assessment Report delivered to the 147th meeting of the Committee of Senior Officials this 7 March in Brussels. With this approach, "COST has for a long time delivered one of the priorities of the current European Research Area (ERA) - that of international co-ordinating of national research activities", Panel Chairman Niels E. Busch told representatives of the 34 COST Member countries.

The Panel recommends that Research Ministers give "full political support" to continue, and urges an agreement to a level of Community finance that will allow COST to meet present tasks and future expectations. The Assessment Panel Report will serve as a basis for the preparation of the COST Ministerial Conference currently scheduled to take place in Copenhagen/Denmark on 5 September 2002. (The Executive Summary of the Assessment Panel's report is attached to this press release as Annex.)

The Panel estimated that the current annual financial investment of 15-25 millions of Euro in COST co-ordination "levers" several billion of Euro worth of research per year and actively involved networking of some 20.000-25.000 researchers annually. This huge amount of scientific interaction across the 34 COST countries had been significant in terms of value added. If continued, it would make a substantial contribution to the ERA development. A decline or even closure of COST would make achieving ERA much more difficult, the Panel warns. However, a number of changes in management and administration would strengthen and enable it to move forward, the panelists concluded.

The Panel noted that three politically important opportunities were on the immediate horizon:

- Realising progress in European integration of Science &Technology;
- The opening of national activities; and
- The use of S&T as a tool of foreign policy.

These "three pillars" of the future were matched by three specific strengths of COST.

(1) A long track record in cross border co-operation and co-ordination of nationally based activities. A feature that is of direct relevance to ERA.

(2) Flexibility and low barriers to participant entry allow COST to function as an eexploratoriumf of new ideas providing scientific foresight and technology assessment, and as a mechanism for addressing emerging needs and (as yet) unforeseen developments.

(3) Experience in providing easy and cost-efficient third-country and inter-regional S&T collaboration without complex association agreements.

(The Executive Summary of the Assessment Panel's report is attached to this press release as Annex.)

In December 2000, COST's senior officials had mandated a group of four independent scientists from four countries to analyse the impact of COST in the widest sense, e.g. scientific quality and progress, the added value to individual research activities, knowledge transfer to other users (e.g. industry, other researchers, policy-makers), perception of other interested groups (e.g. policy-makers, Ministers, etc.).

Equally, the researchers were asked to assess the cost-effectiveness/value for money of COST, e.g. comparison of COST budget to total value of research conducted (leverage), and to develop options for the future of COST, including budgetary considerations, and taking account of recommendations from and progress since the last Ministerial Prague Conference in May 1997. The four panelists were Niels E. Busch (Denmark), David Coates (United Kingdom), Reinhard Loosch (Germany) and Luis Sanz Menendez (Spain).

COST launches 3 new Actions
The Committee agreed to the launching of the following three new Actions:

(a) Agriculture and Biotechnology

COST 855: Animal Chlamydiosis and the Zoonotic Implications (German proposal)

The main objective of the Action is to better understand the spread and importance of animal chlamydioses in Europe by using epidemiological data. Chlamydiae are widely distributed throughout the world, causing various forms of disease in animals and humans. The benefits of the Action include the improvement of general diagnostic standards in Europe in connection with animal chlamydioses. Diagnostic data collected during the Action will be the basis for recommendations on improved management, control and prophylaxis of chlamydial.

The efficacy of currently used vaccines will be assessed and the prospects of novel vaccines can be evaluated. The development of cheaper, safer alternatives, such as recombinant protein or DNA-based vaccines would be a major advance, benefiting animal welfare, reducing the risk of zoonotic infection and reducing the considerable economic losses resulting from the disease. Generally, the Action will contribute to improvements in animal health and welfare, as well as human health. The negative economic impact on animal husbandry caused by chlamydioses will be reduced.

COST 856: Ecological Aspects of Denitrification with Emphasis on Agriculture (German proposal)

The main objective of the Action is to better understand factors governing the loss of N-fertilisers in agriculture due to the microbial activities.

(b) Forestry

COST E31: Management of Recovered Wood (Austrian proposal)

The main objective of this Action is the harmonisation and improvement of European management of recovered wood towards a higher common technical, economic and environmental standard.

World wide interest to participate in COST Actions

COST actions are attracting the interest of researchers far beyond its now 34 European Member States. Upon applications received from 4 scientific institutes from Canada, the USA, Australia and Ukraine, the Committee agreed to the following requests for participation in individual COST Actions:

- COST 3: Towards Mobile Broadband Networks
- Lucent Technologies, USA
- Communications Research Center (Canada)
- COST 852: Quality Legume- Based Forage Systems for Contrasting Environments
- Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Pastoral and Veterinary Institute, Victoria, Australia
- COST D20: Metal Compounds in the Treatment of Cancer and Viral Diseases
- National Taras, Shevehenko, University of Kiev, Ukraine COST extended Action duration

For two Actions, the Senior Officials Committee agreed to an extension of the duration:

- COST 621: Groundwater Management of Coastal Karstic Aquifers (six months)
- COST 622: Soil Resources of European Volcanic Systems (six months)

Next CSO meeting in Cyprus

The 148th Meeting of the Senior Officials Committee will take place in Paralimni/Cyprus on 13/14 May 2002.

For further information call the COST Secretariat at 00-32-2-285.68.96/79.14.

Annex: Executive Summary of the panel report

COST 220 (Presse 63)

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