Brussels, 14 Jun 2004
At the recent European marine research conference in Galway, Ireland, an issue high on everyone's agenda was how to secure a meaningful role for ocean science under the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
As a follow up to that event, the Norwegian research and innovation forum hosted a meeting in Brussels on 11 June aimed at providing a more detailed examination of the future of marine research, particularly in the context of the European Research Area (ERA).
Opening proceedings on behalf of the Irish Presidency, CEO of Ireland's Marine Institute and host of the Galway conference, Dr Peter Heffernan, said that although Europe has a well developed marine science community, it is inhibited by a lack of integration, focus and vision.
At the EUROCEAN 2004 event, participants adopted the Galway Declaration, recognising the major contribution that marine industries can make to the Lisbon agenda, and the vital role that science must play in order to ensure that this contribution is achieved in harmony with the environment.
According to Dr Heffernan, therefore, the vision that must be adopted by the marine science community is of: 'A thriving maritime economy existing in harmony with the environment, and supported by excellence in the ERA.' The Galway Declaration also highlighted the critical role that FP7 must play in supporting excellence in marine science and technology.
To realise this vision, however, Dr Heffernan said that a new paradigm is needed, whereby rather than accepting the traditional view of marine research as just one theme in a list of priority areas, ocean science should feature prominently across the whole spectrum of FP7. 'Simply doing what we have done up 'til now is not enough. We need to integrate marine science horizontally across the six proposed axes of FP7 and establish a programme committee to monitor and manage the process.'
Dr Heffernan found support for this vision in the shape of Kristin Clemet, Norway's Minister for Research and Education. Ms Clemet said that in the area of marine research, there is a need for more basic research, increased human resources and mobility, new infrastructures and vessels, and better support for policy making - all of which match proposed pillars of the Seventh Framework Programme.
'The beauty of marine resources is that they are renewable, but only if used responsibly,' said the minister. 'International cooperation is more needed than ever - large complex infrastructures, lengthy timescales and large geographic coverage all make it too hard for single countries to do alone.'
Ms Clemet believes that there are two areas where knowledge is particularly needed: polar regions and deep ocean exploration. 'Europe has an opportunity to participate in research into the oceans' deep areas. This requires difficult and complex technology, but offers great potential returns also.'
'Europe could take on a more active role in the exploration and management of the oceans, and Norway is prepared to cooperate in FP7 and the ERA to this end,' Ms Clemet finished. Meanwhile the EU Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, said that after the Galway conference it was evident that the European marine research community is already mobilised to play a role in the ERA. Mr Busquin added that FP7 and the ERA concept must be better integrated and that links between, for example, ecosystems, fisheries and the environment should be further investigated.
Following the keynote speeches, a panel of experts looked at the possible role for marine research under FP7 in more detail. Dr Kerstin Johannesson, Professor in marine ecology at Gothenburg University, Sweden, warned that there is no time for thoughts of exotic research projects. 'There are still a lot of basic, non-sexy problems to be solved,' she said.
In order to optimise the effectiveness of such research, Dr Johannesson advocates a research-driven agenda where scientific excellence is the first criteria. 'I'm not fond of large networking projects - smaller and flexible research groups are more important and useful,' she argued. In this context, Dr Johannesson said that she had found the Fourth and Fifth Framework Programmes more effective than FP6, but accepted that cooperation on a much larger scale is necessary in order to provide the large vessels, field stations and other infrastructures that small groups can not provide on their own.
Providing an insight from the Commission was Pierre Mathy, Head of Unit for biodiversity and marine ecosystems at DG Research. Mr Mathy said that, in his own opinion, marine science and technology should definitely be on the agenda of FP7, but an open question is exactly how it will eventually feature. 'Of course, what we will do in FP7 will depend very much on what Member States and associated states decide to put in as funding for the programme,' he added.
Mr Mathy's Director in the Environment Directorate of DG Research is Pierre Valette, who went as far as saying that although the thematic priorities have yet to be identified, marine research would definitely feature under the environmental research activities of FP7. 'The event in Galway and this meeting have been excellent in the process of priority setting for FP7,' said Mr Valette. 'Lessons from FP6 will also be crucial for shaping the future research agenda.'
'The scientific community and industry have to cooperate, as this is essential for achieving the Lisbon and Barcelona goals,' he stressed. 'Marine research must also reflect the environmental, economic and social balance of the Lisbon agenda.'
In conclusion, Director of the Research Council of Norway, Karin Refsnes, added that the new EU Member States are also much concerned by marine research, which presents another strong reason to include it in FP7. 'The necessity to integrate marine research across all six proposed pillars of FP7 has been mentioned by many today, and we must now face the challenge of how to achieve it. Strong European leadership is needed, but we realise the challenge and we certainly have the scientists to succeed,' she ended.
To read the Galway Declaration, please consult the following web address: