Brussels, 08 Apr 2005
'The programme that we are proposing shouldn't be seen as just another framework programme - we want it to be more,' stressed Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, presenting the Commission's proposals for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) in Brussels on 7 April.
'I underline that the proposals are doubling the EU budget for research and development on an annual basis [...]. What we need now is to get on with finalising the framework programme, and more urgently, making sure that sufficient funds will be available,' he added.
Mr Potocnik again described the approaching decision on the EU's financial perspectives as 'the moment of truth' for the Member States. 'Will we be able to implement the things we have agreed in principle -in the re-launched Lisbon agenda and the [Spring] Council?' he asked.
The Commissioner pointed to support in the European Parliament for increased EU support to research and development (R&D), having presented the proposals to MEPs the previous day. Following that presentation, the Parliament's industry, research and energy (ITRE) committee named the former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek as its rapporteur on the FP7 proposals, and former Research Commissioner Phillip Busquin as Mr Buzek's shadow.
'FP7 is the basis of the Lisbon strategy - the competitiveness of Europe must start with research,' Mr Buzek told journalists on 6 April. He also drew attention to the vital importance of the Commission's plans to simplify the framework programme. 'For many years this has been under discussion and it will not be easy. We need support from all 25 EU countries - the Commission and Parliament cannot do it alone.'
Mr Busquin, who oversaw the approval of the previous framework programme, described the proposals as both positive and visible. 'It fits in with the Locatelli report and picks up on the major issues. It's well structured in terms of the thematic priorities and the 'people' element. [...] The ERC proposals are a very real innovation, although there will be discussions on how to implement them for sure.'
Mr Buzek said that he expected to be kept busy for the next year, but looks forward to excellent cooperation between MEPs from all political groups in moving the proposals forward. Initially Mr Buzek described FP7 as 'not really politically sensitive', but after a lively debate between MEPs on the subject of EU funding for embryonic stem cell research, he joked: 'FP7 is a politically sensitive subject - I've changed my mind!'
Mr Busquin sought to play down the importance of the stem cell debate, saying: 'That was the six million dollar question in FP6, but I hope that it won't be the same in FP7. The agreed compromise under FP6 has fortunately delivered a workable system, and I don't feel there's much point discussing the issue at this stage.'
Mr Potocnik adopted a similar strategy, emphasising that all FP7 projects would have to pass the strictest ethical assessments, and that the EU would never finance projects involving embryonic stem cells in a Member State where such practices are illegal.
When asked where the real added value is to be found in the Commission's proposals, Mr Potocnik returned to his opening theme: 'We have struck a balance between what has gone before, and addressing the new challenges that Europe faces. [...] We're not changing everything. The scientific community needs and wants continuity, and the thematic areas are practically the same - on the outside it looks the same as FP6.'
'But on the inside,' he continued, 'we have tools that we've never had before. [...] The Commission is not prescribing particular instruments - or funding mechanisms, as they are now referred to - so the programme has [more] flexibility. [...] The 'Ideas' component is completely new, and has been adopted only a year or two after the concept was first proposed. [...] We are even introducing externalised management structure in certain areas, which is completely new,' Mr Potocnik added.
Yet despite the central role that the FP7 proposals play in Mr Potocnik's and the Commission's vision for future EU research and competitiveness, the Commissioner nevertheless reminded his audience that they are not the most important element. 'It is important [to double the EU research budget], but more important is sending out the message that the Member States should follow this lead and increase their national research budgets accordingly,' he concluded.
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