Brussels, 24 Sep 2003
A Parliamentary Committee has backed the Commission's proposal to strengthen Europe's knowledge society through more research investment, but stresses the devil is not the details but in how the action plan could be rapidly implemented.
A Commission proposal for improving Europe's bottom line by boosting investment in research was given the thumbs up by a European Parliamentary (EP) committee. The Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy had the job of evaluating the Commission communication 'Investing in research: an action plan for Europe'. Its assessment is now available in a working document which was released on August.
"The Commission communication is an important building block in the edifice of a European knowledge-based society," says the document. "It deserves to be discussed and in a few places enlarged upon. Above all it has to be implemented," it asserts. To this end, the Committee calls upon the Commission to follow up its communication with a Green Paper to "enable the practical measures to be taken in the Member States, as well as in the EU, as soon as possible".
One of the challenges addressed in the action plan and picked up on by the Committee was the considerable differences in the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on research in each Member State, and in some cases from region to region. "Some Member States… have high research budgets, but there are unfortunately far too many with low research budgets," says the Committee.
Currently, the EU spends a meagre 1.9% of its GDP on research, compared with 2.7% in the USA and 3% in Japan. Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has called for Europe to match Japan's level, but in order for the EU to catch up with its main competitors, it needs to raise yearly research expenditure at the EU level by 8%, the document stipulates. This would mean a 6% increase in public research funding and a 9% increase from businesses, where the EU has traditionally lagged behind.
Making these budgetary adjustments will be even more important when enlargement becomes a reality next year because most of the applicant countries spend less in percentage terms than the EU average, according to the working document.
Basic research, a European task
The Committee's 'tentative assessment' summarises some of the key issues outlined in the Commission's communication, and reopens the case for a European Research Foundation which could help secure more private capital for research at the European level. It also backs the long-standing proposal for the creation of a European Research Council to deal with such matters as basic research and provide an "academic complement to the Framework Programmes (FP)".
The seven-page working document provides an overview of some of the key issues which would need to be tackled in order to implement the Commission's plan quickly and properly. Under the title 'The knowledge-based society' the Committee argues, among other points, that the "criticism of Europe's research policy must start with basic education", presenting a case for more investment in the education system. The document speaks about the 'globalisation of research' and how 'information and European society' interact more democratically through information technology.
The document concludes with some recommended 'next steps': "Parliament should call for the portion of the EU budget earmarked for research to be raised to 7% and boost the next FP accordingly. The above figure should be made the central issue in the discussion with the Council. In addition, Parliament should declare basic research a European task and accept the idea of a European Research Foundation for which, of course, it would have to provide the necessary funding."