Brussels, 19 Nov 2004
During the final session of the IST 2004 Event in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 17 November, a Commission panel held an open discussion with delegates on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and revealed that the information society technologies (IST) programme will have a clear societal relevance.
'As well as being interested in technology, the Commissioner-designate is also very keen to know what benefits technology can deliver for the people who use it,' said Frans de Bruine, Director for IST policies in DG Information Society. He was making reference to Viviane Reding, who has since been confirmed as the new Commissioner for Information Society and Media.
One of Mr de Bruine's colleagues, Michael Arentoft, outlined the political decision-making process for FP7. Following proposal by the Commission of rules for participation in June or July 2005, final proposals for FP7 will be submitted to the Council and Parliament around September 2005. Following a lengthy political process, the Commission expects a final decision to be made in mid 2006.
A number of conference participants asked the panel what steps the Commission would take to ensure the participation of more small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the new framework programme. The Commission's Khalil Rouhana responded by saying that he felt the 15 per cent target for SME participation in FP6 could be built upon.
'We will look at areas in the IST priority where SMEs are key players, and consider which instruments can be used to stimulate their increased participation,' Mr Rouhana said, indicating that as much as 40 or 50 per cent of funding in these areas could go towards specific targeted research projects (STREPs).
'This alone will not be sufficient though, as in some areas SMEs are simply not active in research, and in these areas we will introduce measures to ensure that SMEs become good users of EU funded research,' he added.
Mr de Bruine emphasised that the Commission's objective was to secure the full participation of SMEs in the core of FP7: 'We don't want to create one section of the framework programme for SMEs - we want SMEs to be included in Integrated Projects, for example, and to achieve this we may need to introduce some specific measures.'
Responding to enquiries regarding the continuation of instruments from FP6, the panel argued that the Marimon report had clearly concluded that the framework programme has a good portfolio of instruments and that they should be extended into FP7 - albeit with certain modifications. At the start of FP6, there had been some uncertainty surrounding the scale and budget of IPs and Networks of Excellence (NoEs), they said, but promised that the Commission would provide much clearer signals of the optimum size, scope and cost of initiatives in the future.
For example, NoEs, they said, 'are mostly suited to research organisations, rather than industry participation, and the Commission believes that they should cover around six to 12 excellent participants to ensure a sufficient structuring effect.'
In terms of integrating research throughout the enlarged EU, Mr Rouhana said that collaboration is the key to getting research organisations in the newer Member States up to speed. 'In the first two calls for FP6, the participation of new Member States was lower than expected, but we will look at the root causes of the problem and make proposals accordingly,' he said. Mr de Bruine added that the Commission cannot deliver all the solutions, and that researchers themselves must consider the talent available in the new EU countries and how best to make use of it.
Finally, a delegate from New Zealand asked the panel whether third countries would be able to apply for individual EU grants for basic research within the framework of the proposed European Research Council (ERC). Mr Rouhana explained that the Commission was currently considering three options: 'We have yet to decide whether it will be open or not to third parties. A third option would be to open the scheme only to those countries with whom the EU has signed a cooperation agreement.'