Brussels, 28 May 2004
Presenting the future of the EU information and communication technology (ICT) research agenda to an audience of Finnish ICT experts on 26 May, Khalil Rouhana, acting Head of Unit in the European Commission, explained that two 'mega trends' are emerging on the ICT scene.
The European Commission is set to address those issues both in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) and in the future FP7, said Mr Rouhana who is the Acting Head of Unit for strategy of information society technologies (IST) research at DG INFSO (Information Society).
'The two mega trends that have been identified, 'explained Mr Rouhana, 'are the increasing global competition and the increasing complexity of systems. We are no longer talking of three poles of competition namely, the EU, the US and Japan. Now the emerging economies are becoming a challenge too, both in terms of quality and costs of production. The EU must increase its competitiveness and bring in skilled workers from all over the world.'
Furthermore, added Mr Rouhana, the increasing complexity of systems highlights the urgent need for people working in ICT to master more and more processes and combine different disciplines. This trend can be seen in services and applications, not only in ICT but in other fields too, he went on to add.
In light of this, Mr Rouhana stated, the Commission is aware of the need to adapt to those growing trends and new paradigms, and is working on various projects.
The first one is the launch, in June, of a 'corrective call'. This call will be based on an updated version of the work programme for 2003 and 2004, and will have a total budget of 258 million euro solely for IST. For this call the Commission has focused on the need to promote international cooperation. 'Call three will stimulate, encourage and facilitate the participation of new Member States and associated candidate countries,' explained Mr Rouhana.
The second focus of call three, added Mr Rouhana is the need to combine ICT with other fields of research such as nanotechnologies, material research, biotechnology, biochips, bioinformatics and so on.
'The European Commission is reacting quickly to market and global trends,' said Mr Rouhana.' Another important issue that we must address in future,' he added, 'is the need to be more focused. We need to stop people from wasting their time writing proposals and not getting selected.'
The work programme for 2004 and 2005 is in the preparation process, said Mr Rouhana. There will be two to three calls with a total budget of 1.9 billion euro. The main objective of this programme is to 'complete the objective of FP6, prepare the start of FP7 and facilitate the integration of the new Member States,' explained Mr Rouhana. 'There are no drastic changes expected for this work programme in terms of coverage and number of strategic objectives. But there is the need to review and, where necessary, adjust the strategic objectives, in particular in areas with high over-subscription rates.'
Collaboration aspects are also becoming more and more important between industry and academia, and so is partnering between industries. Indeed, it is difficult for one company to have all the knowledge needed to develop new technologies, explained Mr Rouhana.
The Commission also notes the importance of providing a better explanation of the role of the different actors, particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). 'We lost them in the first two calls,' lamented Mr Rouhana. 'Their participation has already increased, but we need more. The objective is to reach a rate of 18 to 20 per cent participation. We also need to avoid ghettos of SMEs. The real added value is the cooperation between research institutes, businesses and the investors in research, whether public or private.'
Turning to the subject of FP7, Mr Rouhana explained that preparation is underway in DG Information Society in a 'three pronged approach'. Regretting the delays due to the complicated consultation process, Mr Rouhana informed his audience that a Communication on the Commission's FP7 proposals would be published in early 2005.
'FP7 will be based on a '5+2 (+2)' approach' said Mr Rouhana, 'namely: support for individual research teams; support for research capacities; private-public partnerships (the technology platform concept); networking and collaboration and coordination of national and regional research programmes and policies. The '+2' axes will be space and security while cutting across the spectrum will be innovation and international cooperation.'
Of those axes, support to the individual research teams and private-public partnerships through the European Technology platforms are new, explained Mr Rouhana.
Concentrating on individual research teams, Mr Rouhana stated that support for basic research through individual grants would stimulate competition. Excellence will be the major criterion for selection and there will be no 'juste retour' concept, he emphasised. Light administration will be needed and there are talks of outsourcing to an executive agency, a potential European Research Council, he added.
Mr Rouhana concluded his presentation by saying that 'ICT is not sufficient, ICT research is essential because it is the main tool to support community policy priority. We should realise that ICT has evolved and we must address solutions that integrate ICT with other technologies and address new fields such as bio, nano and cogno technologies'.
Reacting to Mr Rouhana's comments on basic research, Professor Olli Martikainen from the university of Oulu said he believes it would be a mistake to think that progress would happen simply by pouring money into this type of research. 'Investing in basic research at university will not bring added value to the industry,' he stated, 'this would imply that research is a linear process, but this is untrue, especially in ICT. It is more about a network of different players.'
Basic research must have clear connections with industrial development, he added. Biotechnology is the only field that is really science-driven. ICT is not. The right way to invest, said professor Martikainen, is to strike a balance between investing in new activities and mid term ones.
Pekka Silvennoinen from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) agreed, stating 'basic research is encouraged in FP7, but should not be separated too much from other activities.'
Kari Tilli from the Finnish National Technology Agency (TEKES) suggested the Commission should fund research that creates patents rather than simply funding basic research.
For more information on Mr Rouhana's presentation, please visit:
For more information on FP6, please visit:
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