The European Union's multibillion-euro research initiative, the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), is paralysed by red tape and a "paradigm change" in its regulation is needed.
This is the conclusion drawn by a recent progress report on FP7's implementation by the European Commission.
The report into the first two years of the EUR54 billion (£48.5 billion) programme's operation argues that simplification "remains a challenge". But it says that to achieve a "true and lasting breakthrough", all parties need to take a wider look at the balance between trusting researchers to spend funds wisely and carrying out extensive audits of activity.
The report cites the advice of the Commission's European Research Advisory Board, which said in February that more trust was needed in the programme: "The current institutional system seems caught in itself, paralysed by the political necessity to avoid mistakes rather than managing risks.
"Economically speaking, the associated transaction costs (of FP7) have grown completely out of proportion, with marginal costs of controls, checks and balances exceeding their marginal benefits," it says.
The report suggests that a Commission communication on the simplification of processes across the EU, planned for 2010, "would be the occasion for reflecting on these issues".
"(We are) focusing on removing administrative hurdles, streamlining procedures and providing clear guidance," the Commission says in a statement.
"While these incremental changes go in the right direction, there is a growing recognition that real and substantial simplification will require changing the rules themselves."
The report shows that almost 36,000 proposals for funding were received by FP7 during 2007-08, with more than 5,500 of them, totalling about EUR10 billion, selected for funding.
An independent interim evaluation of FP7 is due to be completed in the autumn of 2010, with the programme itself running until 2013.