East European applicants for European Union membership are making progress in promoting research but more work is needed if they are to fully exploit the EU's new sixth framework programme, according to European Commission country assessments.
Slovenia is top in tapping money from the fifth framework programme. But research needs to be tailored to meet the needs of small and medium-sized businesses and knowledge transfer between the public and private sectors.
Malta is progressing in updating science and technology policies but "a further increase in business expenditure on research" is needed, says the report.
Poland has a mixed assessment. It has improved science policy and project administration but needs to strengthen relations between research institutes, industry and small businesses. More money needs to be spent on research and development, says the assessment.
The Czech Republic has created national contacts for promoting international cooperation in science and technology, but the government's research-related administrative capacity should be expanded.
Estonia is praised for having well-established regulations for cooperation in science and technology but needs to boost public administration.
Bulgaria is the country least likely to join the EU in its first wave of eastwards expansion. The commission is concerned about "the absence of an effective policy-maker for this sector".
The Balkan republic has amended its public procurement laws to grant universities and research institutes equal rights with private companies.
The European Council summit has agreed that while applicant countries can participate in the sixth framework programme, they will have to wait for formal accession before participating in an EU research fund for coal and steel.