Brussels, 26 Apr 2004
Since the start of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) in 1998, the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has been very active in its support of the enlargement process. The JRC's so-called 'Enlargement Action' was set up with the aim of building networks across Europe and increasing Eastern European involvement in research and development (R&D) at EU level.
Within the framework of the Enlargement Action, it was decided that every year, certain projects would receive additional funding to support the enlargement process. Nationals from the ten accession countries would be invited to join projects as 'visiting scientists' on a short-term basis, in order to increase knowledge transfer between the EU and the candidate countries.
Marcel Súri was one of the first experts to take part in the scheme. A Slovak national with a PhD in geography and geoinformation science, he arrived at the JRC's Environment Institute in Ispra, Italy, to work on the project 'Environment and solar energy resource in the EU'.
Dr Súri says that when he first arrived in Ispra in September 2001, there were four other nationals from the accession countries at the institute. Today there are 46 in Ispra alone, and a total of 84 within the other institutes and the Directorate General of the JRC.
'The opportunities offered by the JRC are extremely welcomed because they enable the visiting scientists to do some practical work at EU level,' explained Dr Súri in an interview with CORDIS News. 'In Eastern Europe there is often a lack of investment and funding. Many projects cannot be fully realised and researchers there tend to be more oriented towards theory. The Enlargement Action, therefore, provides the opportunity for the visiting scientists to put the theory they learnt back home into practise'.
Speaking about his personal experience, Dr Súri explained that: 'The Enlargement Action has been, for me, an extremely positive experience. The project I am working on is clear and well defined, and I have received a lot of support from my supervisors'. He explained that he was very glad to receive such support, as at first he had found it strange to look at issues from a European perspective, rather than from the national angle that he was used to. This, combined with the fact that he found himself working in a multicultural environment and having to speak English, could have been disorientating, but Dr Súri welcomed the challenge, and took to his new surroundings like a fish to water.
For Dr Súri, the scheme was such a positive experience that when his initial two year contract ended in September 2003, he applied for a year's extension and is now hoping to be offered a more permanent contract.
One aspect of his work that makes him particularly proud is seeing the significant impact his research has had on legislation. For example in Italy, the government plans to change the country's legislation to reflect the findings of the project. 'It is good to be doing applied research as opposed to fundamental research for a change' he said. Previously his work had not been so closely related to policy. Now, his research is used to define policy approaches for sustainable energy. 'It is an interesting challenge to make your work understandable to politicians and legislators,' he said.
Furthermore, his research can benefit his own country. Practical discussions are taking place in Slovakia aimed at implementing renewable energies and Dr Súri is directly involved in the process, providing information, data and advice.
When asked how Slovak research in his field has changed in recent years, he explained that, in the early 1990s, environmental sciences in Slovakia were: 'mainly oriented towards fundamental research at regional or national level.'
'Now, we are starting to see a strong shift towards applied research in fields more related to the European or global context - global change, sustainable development, socio-economic transformation, regional development, information society.' In general, he added, these issues are complex with a strong cross-border element that requires collaboration at international level. Thus, 'many Slovak institutions have now adopted a policy of systematic collaboration with their partners in the EU, US, and Japan.'
On the subject of relations with the EU, Dr Súri explained that 'the most important instruments in support of collaboration are programmes such as Phare, Tempus, FP5, etc. At present, the Sixth Framework Programme [FP6] is considered in Slovakia the main instrument for a full integration of our research.'
Dr Súri is now looking forward to seeing what will happen once enlargement finally takes place on 1 May. 'Enlargement will bring new opportunities to the accession countries. In Slovakia many people are scared of it, thinking they will loose their economic stability but they are wrong. Enlargement brings us more chances to fulfil our ambition. We just have to make sure we don't fall asleep.'