Brussels, 26 Jul 2005
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has supported the continuation of the Research Fund for Coal and Steel, and offered its support for the establishment of Technology Platforms in the coal and steel sectors.
In an own initiative opinion adopted at the July plenary, the EESC also recommends that the same consultative bodies continue to manage the programme, and that the evaluation procedure remains the same. The EESC also sets out what it considers to be the research priorities for coal and steel for the coming years.
Collaborative research under the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) ended in 2002 with the expiry of the ECSC Treaty. The surplus capital contributed by the steel and coal industries during the Treaty's 50 year operation has, however, made it possible to continue funding this type of research. The Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS) was therefore established in February 2003.
Almost three years after it came into being, the EESC believes that 'the spirit of ECSC collaborative research has been maintained'.
For both coal and steel, the EESC opinion supports the establishment of Technology Platforms (indeed, platforms in both sectors have already been set up), and emphasises that the priority themes identified by the platforms must also become EU priorities, to be implemented with different funding instruments, such as the RFCS and the framework programmes.
The EESC would also like to see a Joint Technology Initiative established within the steel sector. The committee 'foresees an essential need in the steel industry for collaborative research in order to maintain and even reinforce that industry's current global leadership position; a position that is both sustainable and competitive.'
The paper identifies the following issues that must be addressed through research: protecting the environment and increasing energy efficiency; increasing security and safety through the development of new, more intelligent and safer steel solutions; and attracting and securing qualified people.
In terms of coal, the EESC welcomes the EU's energy priorities, as well as the commitment to clean coal technologies inherent in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) proposals. The RFCS programme should aim to improve efficiency in order to reduce emissions, and focus on the sustainable use of resources, as well as CO2 sequestration and storage measures.
There remain areas that require attention, however, including the decline in the success rate for project proposals. While the number of proposals submitted in relation to the amount of funding available has increased, the success rate for project proposals is now around 30 per cent, compared to between 50 and 55 per cent at the beginning of the decade.
Also, while the involvement of researchers from the ten new Member States in EU coal and steel research has increased, it is still low at 4.2 per cent for steel and 14.16 per cent for coal.
Nonetheless, the EESC concludes that: 'After a period of transition of three years, the RFCS research programme has proved to be efficient and effective.' To access the EESC opinion, please click here