Brussels, 26 Oct 2005
A new Commission brochure entitled 'Networking the European Research Area' gives an update on the implementation of two instruments intended to coordinate national programmes - ERA-NETs and Article 169 - and suggests that they are likely to be reinforced in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The ERA (European Research Area) -NET scheme was designed to provide support for the coordination and mutual opening up of national and regional research programmes. A step-by-step approach to coordination can be followed, with partners first implementing exploratory actions, and later establishing joint research programmes.
The Commission is pleased with the response to its call for proposals - some 75 ERA-NETs are expected to be up and running by the end of FP6, and 96.2 per cent of organisations currently involved in projects are governmental, international or non-profit bodies.
Areas covered by ERA-NETs include the ageing process and age-related problems, transport research, and scientific cooperation with China. CO-REACH is one of the largest ERA-NET initiatives, and brings together scientific bodies with bilateral links to China. This coordination should provide the foundations for an analysis of the achievements and challenges facing transnational cooperation.
Thus far, industrial technologies, transport, information technology (IT) and innovation are the most popular themes for ERA-NET initiatives - 32 per cent cover these fields. This area is closely followed by the environment and energy (31 per cent), and then there is a drop off to life sciences (17 per cent), humanities and social sciences (12 per cent), and fundamental research and international cooperation (eight per cent). Further information on individual ERA-NETs is available in the latest series of ERA-NET project sheets.
While interest has been high, the Commission has decided that further incentives may be necessary in order to encourage participants to organise joint calls. A new element, to be known as ERA-NET Plus, has been proposed for FP7 with this in mind, and will support the pooling of funds for the organisation of joint calls. In FP7, existing projects will be encouraged to go further, and the ERA-NET scheme will be expanded. The participation of national and regional ministries that are in the process of preparing research programmes will be encouraged. This is intended to encourage less involved countries to actively participate in the development of the ERA through ERA-NET projects.
Article 169 has so far been used for only one project - the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). Article 169 allows the European Union to participate in the project, which is a partnership between several countries and organisations. In this capacity the EU has contributed one third of the 600 million euro budget.
EDCTP integrates the research and clinical intervention experience of all participating countries within one joint programme. The programme is implementing extensive, coordinated and in-situ clinical trials for the development of new drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostic tools for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The initiative is long-term, envisaged to run for between ten and 20 years.
The Commission believes that this pilot action has demonstrated the potential of Article 169, as well as the challenges involved. It is planned to make more extensive use of the instrument under FP7 in cases where it can be clearly established that it is the most appropriate instrument. It is foreseen that up to three or four Article 169 initiatives could be launched in areas that yet to be identified. It is possible that well-developed ERA-NETs could evolve into an Article 169 initiative. However, the establishment of any new activities involving this mechanism is likely to be lengthy, as proposals must be approved by the European Parliament and the Council.
In his preface to the brochure, Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik underlines the importance of initiatives such as ERA-NETs and Article 169 for the future of European competitiveness.
'If Europe wants to remain competitive in a globalising economy and preserve its model of society, it has no choice but to become a vibrant knowledge society. The European research programmes are an important and essential driving force in this direction. But they are only one element of the story. At the end of the day, pooling our resources will be the most effective way to make a profound and long-lasting difference,' writes the Commissioner.