Brussels, 03 Dec 2004
Having completed the consultation process that it launched in May, the UK government has published its position paper on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
Whereas its initial consultation paper identified five main objectives for FP7, the government's final position cites just three: promoting research excellence, improving industrial competitiveness, and providing research support to EU policies.
Of the three, however, most emphasis is placed on raising Europe's economic performance. The paper's clear message is that the framework programme should focus the bulk of its efforts on industrial competitiveness, with the aim of increasing private research investment, encouraging innovation and attracting international investment.
'Evidence gathered in the UK shows that business participation in Framework 6 has dropped sharply compared with the 5th Programme. Whilst previous Programmes have delivered research outputs well, evidence for exploitation [in FP6] is weak. This weakness may be associated with the relatively low involvement in projects by business research users,' the document argues.
The UK government believes that it is vital that businesses drive the long-term research agenda in Europe, as they are the actors who will ultimately exploit the outputs. However, the position paper accepts that 'Governments also have a strategic interest that should be taken into account in areas such as energy or clean technology.'
In terms of the participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the UK reveals that in response to a survey, only 55 per cent of such organisations said that the benefits of participating in the framework programme exceed the cost. The UK government believes that responsibility for supporting SMEs falls primarily to national, regional or local authorities. However, the EU can add value for technologically intensive SMEs, it says, either through its core collaborative research programme or an SME specific instrument.
Moving to basic research and the promotion of excellence, the UK lends its support to the creation of a European Research Council (ERC), which should fund the full cost of excellent basic research carried out in both the public and private sectors. However, the government argues that the ERC should operate independently of the Commission, instead being jointly accountable to the European Council and European Parliament. Finally, the UK argues that 15 to 20 per cent of the total EU research budget should go towards basic research.
Under the third and last of its proposed core objectives - research to policy support - the UK government has changed its position somewhat from its original consultation paper. In that document, it defended the role of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and rejected calls for a significant reduction in its budget. In the final reckoning, however, whilst recognising it as 'a valuable institution' the government states that 'the JRC should compete on an equal footing with other organisations to undertake EU policy research', and calls for EU funding for the body to drop to 60 per cent of full costs. However, the paper notes that the JRC would be a good candidate to administer the dissemination programme for FP7.
Further important actors in research for policy support are the other Commission Directorates General, which the UK believes 'have a key role to play as customers, and their responsibility and accountability needs to be significantly strengthened.'
To complement the three 'vertical' objectives, the UK identifies certain 'horizontal' issues that it considers a priority for EU support: human capital and mobility, research infrastructure and knowledge transfer. 'These cross-cutting programmes are valuable and should be retained and developed in Framework 7,' the paper states.
Under the heading 'other issues', the UK supports the EU's intention to develop a space research programme, but issues a blunt warning to EU policy makers over the proposed security research programme. 'The issue of security research raises significant national concerns, including issues of subsidiarity, Commission competence, information security and classification. This needs to be fully debated inter-institutionally and the national security concerns of member states taken fully into account.'
The paper also provides the UK perspective on the Technology Platform initiatives: 'To be effective, Technology Platforms do not need substantial public funds, but may require some largely administrative funding to bring partners together. [...] We are not convinced of the case for large-scale formal public-private partnerships. It may be appropriate to pilot this concept in one or two areas, but it does not seem widely applicable to many science and technology fields.'
Finally, the UK confirms the position it set out in the original consultation document with regard to the research budget - that while it is in favour of increased spending on research, this should represent a reallocation of funds within an overall EU budget of no more than one per cent of the EU's gross income, and should take account of absorption capacity and the Commission's ability to manage the funds. To download the UK government position paper on FP7, please visit: http:///www.ost.gov.uk/ostinternational/f p7/