Strasbourg, 07 Jun 2006
The Committee on Industry, Research and Energy is broadly throwing its weight behind the Commission's proposals on the future of European research and development for the period 2007-2013. MEPs in the committee endorse the overall structure of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which will consist of four specific programmes covering a number of thematic areas.
The committee is proposing an amendment to bring the budget of the programme into line with the agreement on the Financial Perspective: the seven-year programme will have a budget of â'¬50,862 million compared to the â'¬72,726 million originally proposed by the Commission. In further proposed amendments to the first-reading report by Jerzy BUZEK (EPP-ED, PL), MEPs in the committee modify the allocation of these funds among the different parts of the programme in line with their preferences.
Support for SMEs, young researchers and women
MEPs in the committee are keen to increase the involvement in FP7 of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), and to boost the position of young researchers and women in science.
For SMEs, one way is to ensure that they gain better access to pre-funding. If SME-specific instruments should become oversubscribed, MEPs want the financing of the various FP instruments to be reviewed with the aim of directing funds towards the instruments that are in demand.
Other amendments proposed are to encourage young researchers and support the early stages of their scientific careers, and to introduce measures to reduce the "brain drain" such as reintegration grants. MEPs in the committee also want to see efforts to bring more women researchers into the programmes.
Real autonomy for European Research Council
Members in the committee welcome the proposed creation of a European Research Council - a new instrument to support investigator-driven â€œfrontier researchâ€ - but want to be sure it enjoys real autonomy. They suggest it should initially be set up as an Executive Agency and - after a brief transition phase - become an independent structure. The Commission is therefore asked to present a proposal to Parliament and Council, under the codecision procedure, to "implement the ERC as a permanent, legally independent structure ". By 2008, says the committee, an independent review must be carried out of the ERC's structures and mechanisms, following which the structures and mechanisms of the ERC could be modified.
To avoid top-heavy administration, MEPs in the committee propose an amendment calling for administrative and staffing costs for the ERC to account for not more than 3 % of the annual ERC budget.
Turning to ethical issues, Members in the committee argue that FP7 must not finance research aimed at human cloning for reproductive purposes, research intended to modify the genetic heritage of human beings which could make such changes inheritable or research intended to create human embryos solely for the purpose of research or the purpose of stem cell procurement, including by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer.
However, research on the use of human stem cells, both adult and embryonic, may be financed depending both on the contents of the scientific proposal and the legal framework of the Member State(s) involved. As regards the use of human embryonic stem cells, the institutions, organisations and researchers must be subject to strict licensing and control in accordance with the legal framework of the Member State(s) involved.
Priorities for financing under FP7
A wide range of amendments deal with the nine thematic areas which are broadly defined in the Commission's proposal. MEPs in the committee support the selection of these nine thematic areas but wish to broaden and clarify the Commission's definitions. They also add for each of the areas a number of activities which they feel merit Community support. Lastly, MEPs in the committee want to split the area "security and space" into two separate headings. Thus the following ten areas would be funded via FP7:
- Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies
- Environment (including Climate Change)
- Transport (including Aeronautics)
- Socio-economic Sciences and the Humanities
The Industry Committee wants the Framework Programme to be continuously and systematically reviewed. It says the Commission should not carry out just one evaluation - in 2010 - but at least two interim assessments (in 2009 and 2011). Specifically on ethical questions, MEPs in the committee say the research fields must be reviewed in the second phase of FP7 in the light of scientific progress.
Stem cell research
The relevant specific programme explicitly excludes EU funding for research that involves human reproductive cloning, the creation of human embryos for research (including by means of therapeutic cloning) and research that intends to change the genetic heritage of human beings.
Concerning research using embryonic stem cells the Commission does fund projects using this technique, but only under very strict conditions: the cells can only come from embryos which were already created for in-vitro fertilisation purposes, but not used, and where explicit consent has been given for their use for research. In this way we avoid creating any sort of pressure for the donation of eggs. The team must justify their use scientifically and show that other types of stem cells, such as from umbilical cords, are not appropriate. The project must then undergo an ethical review at European level and in every country where the research will be carried out. Nothing will be financed in a country that does not allow such research nationally. Finally, each project must be approved by a committee of all 25 Member States. According to the Commission, the EU has thus the most sophisticated monitoring system on ethics and research ever established in a public institution.
Commissioner Potocnik proposes continuing the system used in FP6 for FP7.
Which Member States allow research using human embryonic stem cells (hESC)? Belgium, UK and Sweden allow therapeutic cloning, which is expressly excluded from FP6. Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Spain, Netherlands have regulations allowing the derivation of new hESC from supernumerary IVF embryos. Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Slovenia have no specific regulations on hESC, but allow some research on supernumerary IVF embryos. Germany and Italy have regulations which restrict hESC research. These regulations mean that scientists in these countries cannot derive new hESC, but can import them. In Germany, these cells have to have been derived before 1 January 2002. Austria, Lithuania and Poland have legislation prohibiting hESC research.
What is the worldwide situation?
In the US, federal funds are restricted to funding research on hESC derived before 9 August 2001. There are no restrictions for industrial, private or state funds, though some states are currently reviewing their funding rules. New rules are currently going through the US legislative process. China, India, Israel, Singapore and South Korea currently allow therapeutic cloning. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Taiwan have regulations allowing the derivation of hESC from supernumerary IVF embryos. The Swiss rules were approved by a public referendum in November 2004.
Euratom Framework Programme
The committee adopted a second report by Mr Buzek on the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities (2007-2011). The overall budget of this programme will be â'¬51 million, compared to the original Commission proposal of â'¬3092 million.
Jerzy BUZEK (EPP-ED, PL)
Seventh framework programme (2007-2013)
Nuclear research and training activities (2007-2013)
Joint debate: 13.06.2006