EESC Opinion: 7th R&D Framework Programme (link)

December 20, 2005

Brussels, 14 December 2005

OPINION of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the seventh framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007 to 2013) and the Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the seventh framework programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities (2007 to 2011) COM(2005) 119 final/2 - 2005/0043 (COD) - 2005/0044 (CNS) _____________
Full text of Opinion in MS Word file on ESC website

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The Committee would above all stress the importance of adequate infrastructure measures to get the universities up to speed (see point 4.12.2 above). In this context, the Committee notes that, in a number of places in the EU, successful clusters of high-tech firms have grown up around certain universities and/or research centres, sparking growth and innovation in the neighbouring economic area as well (poles of economic growth). See also point 4.16.2.

There is more on the role of European supercomputer centres as an additional and very important infrastructure measure at a later stage in this opinion (see point 5.8 below).

The Committee also recommends that, subject to its inclusion under the "Ideas" programme as well, the issue of science in society - currently one of the activities under the "Capacities" heading - should be switched to the priority sub-programme "Socio-economic sciences and the humanities" which is part of the "Cooperation" programme. In this way, more effective use might be made of the potential synergies between these themes, and the necessary links could also be established. This would also make it clearer that the total budget of these overlapping issues is 3% of the thematic, priority programmes.

Sound and effective international cooperation in research and training is a key element of global partnership and reflects with the very nature of scientific R&D. International cooperation activities, which come under the capacities sub-programme, focus on the key issue of working together (see also point 4.13.1) with applicant countries, countries neighbouring the EU, developing countries and emerging economies. The Committee is pleased that cooperation with economically and technically advanced countries such as the USA or Japan, which is, at the least, equally important, is made possible under the "Cooperation" or "People" sub-programmes, and that, in individual cases, such cooperation has even been placed on an institutional footing through bilateral agreements. The Committee recognises that this cooperation must grow out of actual need in the fields concerned, but it would nonetheless recommend raising the profile of these important facts and giving them greater emphasis.

Continuity and tools to promote research (forms of support). With regard to both aspects, the Committee strongly reaffirms its recommendations put forward in a previous opinion. In view of the urgent need for greater continuity, the Committee reiterates its point that the retention of instruments which have proved their worth is an important means of achieving this objective, and that there should be scope for flexibility in applicants' choices of instruments. At the same time, however, the assessment procedure must not sanction the choice of a particular instrument (not favoured by the Commission), nor may it give priority to particular instruments. The Committee also sees the extended duration of FP7 as a contribution to greater continuity, provided, however, that it is adequately funded.

Some of the instruments have been re-named or are entirely new. At this point the Committee would reiterate its general recommendations to the effect that, firstly, the Commission should, in the interests of continuity, proceed with great caution in introducing new instruments, or even renaming existing ones, and secondly, during the necessary trials of new instruments, it should make it clear that such instruments may still be in the testing phase.

In addition to the technology platforms mentioned earlier, the joint technology initiatives are also a new instrument of this kind designed to promote the establishment of longer-term public-private partnerships. There are high hopes for these initiatives within industry and not least among SMEs, although the Committee notes that the Commission has yet to produce any clearer proposals on this issue, including how the initiatives differ from technology platforms. Such initiatives could, among other things, also lead to the establishment of cooperative networks between big companies and SMEs, and also with universities and research centres, and, in broad terms, to more private-sector R&D investment (see also point 4.15.4). It is important, therefore, not only to work out clearer conditions and operating arrangements for joint technology initiatives of this kind, but also, after an appropriate period, to check whether the expectations placed in the initiatives have been fulfilled.

When introducing new instruments, the Commission should take care to avoid any recurrence of the mistakes that were made during the launch of the "networks of excellence" (FP6). In that instance, an ineffective information policy led to confusion and differing interpretations among all stakeholders, and even within the Commission itself. The Committee trusts that it will have an opportunity to go into this subject in a subsequent opinion. It welcomes the Commission's proposal to apply Articles 169 and 171 of the EU Treaty to the funding schemes.

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