Brussels, 28 February 2002
The European Economic and Social Committee (ESC) has welcomed the Commission's proposals on rules for participation in the Sixth Framework programme (FP6), particularly the increased simplification and greater transparency, but urged the Commission to ensure that SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) are not disadvantaged in any way.
'The Committee welcomes the proposals inasmuch as they will provide greater flexibility, more transparency and equal access,' reads the ESC opinion. It particularly welcomes the Commission's proposals to lift the requirement of provision of a bank guarantee, which it believes to be costly and difficult to secure, and to introduce a system of advance payments instead of reimbursing expenses, which has led to cash flow problems.
The ESC believes that these two processes will benefit SMEs, 'who should be considered the priority target of the Sixth RTD [research and technological development] framework programme, given their crucial role in developing European competitiveness and employment.'
The Committee would however like to see moves to simplify the process of dossier submission, and calls for an action plan outlining such procedures. The Committee also regrets that the Commission has not taken up the ESC's proposals to simplify procedures and facilitate the participation of SMEs, for instance by decentralising pre-selection systems and granting overall subsidies to intermediaries.
Members of the ESC welcomed the initiative of making business associations eligible as entities and suggested that trans-national cooperation projects by business groupings are also made eligible, aiming to set up a permanent framework for technological cooperation between companies.
Regarding joint liability of project participants, the ESC is hesitant, believing that this could discourage large groups from associating with small entities, fearing that they may default. To reduce this risk, the Committee suggests the introduction of an insurance scheme, which would be covered by the EU budget, and allow the Union to defend its own financial interests. Concerned that this could reduce the financial resources available for research, the ESC suggests operating a pilot scheme.
On the new instruments proposed for FP6, the ESC recommends leaving the choice of which one to use open to project operators. 'The various operating modes would thus be offered as a 'toolbox' from which it would be possible to choose individual instruments depending on needs,' states the ESC opinion. The Committee also asks for clarification on the way in which networks of excellence are to be selected.
The Committee approves the opportunity given to consortia to arrange their own competitive calls for work or to extend activities, and suggests that, in order to ensure transparency, these calls are published on CORDIS.
For further information on the ESC, please consult the following web address: http://www.esc.eu.int