Brussels, 29 Nov 2004
Anxious that the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) project remains as international as possible, the Competitiveness Council has proposed a 'privileged partnership' with Japan that would still see the fusion reactor being built in Europe.
During a regular Council meeting in Brussels on 26 November, EU research ministers reaffirmed their support for the proposed European ITER site in Cadarache, France, describing it as the most advantageous from 'the scientific and environmental point of view.'
However, encouraged by the 'positive atmosphere' of recent international negotiations, the Council believes that a compromise can be found that will convince Japan to drop the claim of its rival site in Rokkasho-Mura. According to a statement from the Dutch EU Presidency, Europe will seek a privileged partnership with Japan that includes the development and upgrading of supporting facilities for the project, presumably at the Japanese site.
The Competitiveness Council stressed that 'because of the global importance of fusion research [...] international cooperation should be on the broadest possible basis and should involve all the six parties currently negotiating on ITER [the EU, Japan, China, Russia, the US and South Korea] as well as further partners who wish to contribute to the project.'
In other business, ministers held a detailed debate on the Commission's proposals for future policy to support EU research, including the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). A substantial majority of delegations agreed that promoting transnational collaborative research should remain the core objective of the next framework programme, calling for a 'broad continuity' of thematic priorities and instruments.
The Council acknowledged the relevance of a new mechanism to support excellent basic research, and invited the Commission to make proposals for such an instrument that ensure its scientific autonomy, transparency and user-friendliness.
In the course of discussions on future EU research policy, ministers also highlighted the need for strengthened European policy and strategy in the field of research infrastructures. In this context they welcomed the role of the European strategy forum for research infrastructures (ESFRI), whose strategic roadmap, they said, 'should describe the scientific needs for research infrastructures for the next 10 to 20 years' covering new and existing facilities in all scientific areas.
Lastly in this section of the agenda, the Competitiveness Council called on the Commission to increase the participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in FP7, both through existing instruments and through the possible creation of a 'bottom-up scheme for research-performing SMEs.'
As well as discussing the proposed REACH chemicals legislation package and the simplification of legislation, the Council also considered the Kok report on the mid-term review of the Lisbon process. Ministers expressed their 'broad support' for the report, describing it as a good basis for a review of the EU's competitiveness agenda.
The Council believes it is essential for practical and operational measures to be taken - particularly at Member State level - to ensure the success of the Lisbon strategy, and a large majority of delegations welcomed the recommendation to create national action plans, especially if this could be combined with a reduction in their overall 'reporting burden'. To access a copy of the provisional Council conclusions, please: click here