COST meeting discusses future structure and approves research projects

April 25, 2002

Brussels, 24 April 2002

European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research - COST Secretariat. Summary of conclusions. 147th meeting of the COST Senior Officials Committee held in Brussels on 7/8 March 2002. Brussels, 17 April 2002 (document COST 223/02). Full text

.... 8. COST ASSESSMENT PANEL - Presentation of the Final Report

The Chairman of the Assessment Panel, Mr. Niels BUSCH, presented delegates with a summary of the Final Report. COST was an essential part of the Framework Programmes and had for a long time delivered one of the priorities of the current European Research Area (ERA) - that of international co-ordination of national research activities.

The Panel recommends that Research Ministers give "full political support" to continue, and to reach agreement on a level of Community finance that will allow COST to meet present tasks and future expectations.

The Panel estimated that the current annual financial investment of 15-25 millions of Euro in COST co-ordination "levered" several billion of Euro worth of research per year and actively involved 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. However, a number of changes in management and administration would strengthen and enable it to move forward.

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 'exploratorium' 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 Committee thanked the Panel for its impressive work and endorsed its findings as a solid base for future exchanges of views.

9. POSSIBLE RESTRUCTURING OF COST

- Question of future secretariat organisation

The Chair presented delegations with a paper on "Alternatives for the COST Secretariat".

During the ensuing debate,

- Several delegations (I, CH, GR, DK) underlined the urgency of taking a decision on the matter; the Italian delegation, supported by N, D, ISL, wished to take a decision in principle to allow for further work on details.

- Several delegations (CH, I, GR, ISL) expressed support for the model of a non-profit organisation according to Belgian law as a feasible replacement for the Commission secretariat in DG Research;

- The Netherlands delegation, supported by F, A, regretted that not all possible avenues had been explored. NL, supported by F, rather favoured the examination of the model of a European Agency and offered to provide further detail.

- Several delegations (D, S, B, A, CH) underlined the necessity of knowing the budgetary envelope available within the Sixth Framework Programme as a pre-condition for any kind of solution and cautioned that Member States would have difficulties in adopting a solution without knowing the financial impact or would be reluctant to allocate any additional funds at all for a new secretarial organisation;

- The Commission services considered that three barriers which were interconnected - the funding issue, the overhaul of governance structures, and the new secretarial home - should be overcome. Continuation of providing administrative and scientific support to COST beyond the durationof the Fifth Framework Programme would depend on the establishment of a different secretarial arrangement. However, in regard to COST Actions whose duration go beyond 1 January 2003, the Commission services envisage transitional arrangements in the event that the new secretarial home is not built by that date. The Swedish delegation stated that, in its view, decisions to modify the present structure should be taken at the political level and be implemented by the responsible institutions.

Testing the feelings of the floor, the Chair asked how many delegations could be able to accept an association model at the present stage. Eighteen delegations indicated that they were disposed to accept the transformation of the present Commission support towards a model framed after the association model.

The Chair concluded that he would elaborate a further proposal for the Committee's meeting in May.

10. APPROVAL OF MOUs

The Commission services provided delegations with an overview about the number of Actions approved in the past year and a general overview about action development.

The Committee approved in principle the following new Actions:

(a) Agriculture and Biotechnology

COST 855: Animal Chlamydiosis and the Zoonotic Implications (German proposal)
COST 856: Ecological Aspects of Denitrification with Emphasis on Agriculture (German proposal)

(b) Forestry

COST E31: Management of Recovered Wood (Austrian proposal)

11. REQUESTS FROM NON-COST INSTITUTES FOR PARTICIPATION

The Committee agreed to the participation of the following non-COST institutes in the Actions listed below:

COST 3: Towards Mobile Broadband Networks
- Lucent Technologies, USA
- Communications Research Centre (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

12. REQUEST FOR PROLONGATION OR EXTENSION OF THE DURATION OF COST ACTIONS

The Committee endorsed the decision of the bureau to extend the duration of:

- COST 621: Groundwater Management of Coastal Karstic Aquifers by six months, but decided to change the decision not to extend

- COST 622 Soil Resources of European Volcanic Systems, also by six months:

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