Brussels, 22 Feb 2005
Finland has adopted its position on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research, raising concerns about the management of research projects, and proposing a new scheme for researcher training.
Finland welcomes most of the proposals in the Commission's June 2004 communication 'Science and Technology, the key to Europe's future - Guidelines for future European Union policy to support research', and principally advocates a policy of continuity. However, there are a number of existing practices and new proposals that have worried the Finnish government.
'The strength and the basic element of EU Research Framework Programmes has been, and must continue to be, multilateral cooperation, i.e. joint projects between various countries and players. Therefore, tried-and-tested project forms of this type should be maintained and more funding allocated to them,' states the paper. Shortcomings should be 'dealt with in accordance with the recommendations presented in the Marimon evaluation report,' it adds.
The Finnish government's prime concern appears to concern the externalisation of project management. 'Finland takes, in principle, a critical view on externalising, because externalising of management functions always involves risks,' reads the position paper. While outsourcing may, on occasions, be justified as a means of increasing cost effectiveness and efficiency, such a system may weaken the conditions for industrial and social utilisation of research results, believes Finland. The paper therefore stipulates that such outsourcing should only be implemented when a clear division of responsibilities has been agreed by all.
On the whole, however, the 'main responsibility for implementing EU research policy should remain the responsibility of the Commission,' states Finland. Entrusting project-level management to consortia within FP6 'has not met all expectations,' the paper claims.
Finland is supportive of doubling the EU's research budget providing that these new resources are not used to replace national research funding. 'EU funding should have a clear added value, i.e. have growth impact and leverage effect, compared with national measures,' the paper specifies.
Concerned that the Marie Curie programme that supports the training and mobility of researchers 'is too fragmented into too many separate scholarship programmes in order to meet many kinds of needs', Finland proposes the establishment of European research training programmes. 'A suitable environment for a research training programme could be, for instance, a consortium consisting of a few institutions (university departments or research institutes or companies), or the training programme could alternatively be built around a major research infrastructure or a centre of excellence,' the paper elaborates. Funding would be put aside for researchers from third countries, including developing countries.
On the proposed European Research Council (ERC) that would fund basic research Finland once again offers its support, but with conditions. The paper welcomes the initiative as a necessary move to improve the competitiveness and attractiveness of Europe's economy and research, but emphasises that the pan-European nature of its projects should be maintained. The ERC should not seek to fill national funding gaps, and Finland therefore 'does not regard funding of individual small projects at EU level as appropriate, but considers that funding should be allocated to projects that are too large, too complex or too risky to be financed by one country alone.' Complex management tools such as those used in FP6 should be avoided, the paper adds.
Technology Platforms win Finland's approval, but the position paper makes clear that they must interact with national research and technology programmes, maybe through the ERA-NET scheme. This will ensure that the platforms offer real European added value and increase critical mass, says Finland.
The Commission's assumption that the private sector will cover two thirds of the costs of Technology Platforms is described in the paper as unrealistic, however, especially in the case of platforms intended to work together in the long-term and to promote technological change. Europe's main competitors, the US and Japan, provide a markedly higher proportion of public funding for similar projects, claims the paper.
As a small country, Finland is well aware of the need to collaborate where research infrastructures are concerned. Access is often dependent upon collaboration. The country therefore recognises a need for financing access to infrastructure, networking, and new studies and development projects under FP7. The implementation of such a programme should not be rushed, however: 'This matter is important and wide-ranging, and should thus not be prepared hastily.'
Once again Finland is eager to ensure that EU funding does not replace national funding, and states that large infrastructures should mainly be financed nationally. EU funds should be invested in infrastructure of 'great importance to Europe as a whole'.
The inclusion of space research in FP7 is welcomed by Finland, although the paper makes clear the country's view that the growth in the budget for this field of research should markedly exceed average growth for the whole of the research budget.
Finland also offers support for coordination actions, security research, provisions to ensure the full participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the EURATOM programme, and funding for both fission and fusion research. It also notes that the re-orientation of the Commission's Joint Research Centre is 'a step in the right direction.' The position paper is available on the CORDIS Finnish Member State service: http://www.cordis.lu/finland