Brussels, 14 Dec 2005
While some success has been achieved in integrating socio-economic research across the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the overall effort must be maintained and strengthened, according to Manfred Horvat, Professor of European and international research cooperation at Vienna University of Technology, and author of a mid-term report for the Commission on the socio-economic dimensions of FP6.
Speaking to CORDIS News on 12 December after addressing a Commission conference on social sciences and the humanities in Europe, Professor Horvat said that there is now an increased awareness of socio-economic issues in the other thematic areas of FP6, particularly in relation to foresight activities.
'But the general environment [in FP6] is not really conducive to the integration of socio-economic research. References to socio-economic perspectives are often symbolic or vague, and the result is a rather cloudy concept of a 'cross-cutting issue' without a clear underlying concept,' he said. In his report, Professor Horvat suggests that this is why many researchers and Commission project officers still regard socio-economic activities as a burden.
When asked why he feels it is necessary to include a socio-economic dimension to all EU research, Professor Horvat points to the key contribution of the framework programmes to the Lisbon strategy. 'The strategy expects there to be significant socio-economic impacts resulting from EU research and technological development [RTD], but there is little mention of socio-economic elements in the framework programmes themselves, so there is a gap.'
The missing ingredients, Professor Horvat concludes in his report, include a multidimensional concept of RTD that integrates the natural and engineering sciences with social, economic and human science elements, an explanatory note in the framework programme documentation outlining the concept and criteria of socio-economic dimensions, and the inclusion of socio-economic perspectives in the education and lifelong learning of all researchers.
Asked whether the Commission's proposals for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) sufficiently address his concerns, Professor Horvat worries that the underlying concept of socio-economic elements in the programme is still too vague. 'But the most important thing now is the inclusion of experts from socio-economic sciences in the process of defining the work programmes and calls for proposals. [The socio-economic element] mustn't just be an add on - getting it right is a challenge for everyone - natural scientists and social scientists alike.'
Looking ahead to his own country's Presidency of the EU, Professor Horvat is hopeful that the issues he has raised in his report will be addressed. 'Austria has always been very supportive in respect of the integration of the social sciences in RTD. We have worked closely with the Nordic countries and the Netherlands in pushing social sciences onto the agenda,' he concluded.