'EU will miss GDP spending target'

April 8, 2005

The headline target of spending 3 per cent of gross domestic product on research by 2010 is "an ambitious goal" for the European Union economy, and officials agree privately that the target will not be met, according to Janez Potoycnik, the European Research Commissioner.

In 2002, only Sweden and Finland managed this total. The ten accession countries were far behind despite a respectable showing (1.5 per cent) from Mr Potocnik's native Slovenia.

The private sector, which the European Commission would like to see as the major research funder, has been reducing its research spending rather than increasing it.

As Mr Potocnik acknowledged, the Commission had a role in reversing this trend. He said: "We need to improve the whole environment, by thinking how we use state aid and European funding, whether the conditions are right for risk capital to be spent on research and whether we have the right regime for intellectual property."

One research budget certain to be on the way up is the Commission's.

Details of the Seventh Framework Programme, likely to be twice as big as the sixth one, at about €10 billion (£6.8 billion) a year from 2007 to 2013, were due to be announced on Thursday.

The real aim, Mr Potocnik said, was to be an example to the member nations. "The idea is not to replace their research spending but to create conditions for more research." He said he saw a large FP7 as an essential counterpart of expanding industrial research, by increasing academic research and crossover programmes.

Much of the increased budget will fund the new European Research Council, a funding body for elite pure research.

Mr Potocnik said: "The lack of an ERC is a hole in European research, especially in comparison with the National Science Foundation in the US. It will not compete with national research organisations. If there is more industrial research, we need the ERC to balance it."

Action on the findings of a report by Ramon Marimon, former Spanish Science Minister, on the bureaucracy involved in getting EU research cash, is also on the agenda.

"We are setting up a user group, including people from universities, to make sure that the legal and organisational issues are addressed. But the Commission, the European Parliament, and our auditors all expect us to apply proper procedures, so it is very difficult," Mr Potocnik said.

He is also keen on a European approach to genetically modified organisms. "I want the debate to be based on fact and for it to be closer to European citizens."

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