Brussels, 13 May 2004
Outlining the future developments and priorities in the field of marine research was a key aim of the EUROCEAN 2004 conference, held in Galway, Ireland, from 10 to 13 May.
Of equal importance to the marine science community itself was the opportunity to communicate these priorities to EU decision makers, and to shore up Community support for their future activities under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
To get an idea of the issues and arguments that will determine the outcome of this process, CORDIS News spoke to Pierre Mathy, Head of Unit for biodiversity and marine ecosystems at the Commission's DG Research. Earlier during the event, Mr Mathy participated in a plenary session examining the creation of a European Marine Research Area, and he went on to explain the Commission's approach to this vision.
'Developing the European Marine Research Area is a job for the scientific community,' he told CORDIS News. 'The Commission has constructed the necessary framework, and we can see that the scientific community is mobilising itself in response to this vision.'
When asked why Europe needs such a research area for marine science, Mr Mathy highlighted the huge potential impact that such activities could have in achieving the EU's wider objectives: 'Marine science and technology has all the attributes needed to contribute to Community goals, specifically the Lisbon and Gothenburg agendas, and it has many users, such as industry, the wider scientific community and policy makers.'
Mr Mathy continued: 'Ocean and marine resources are a common good. They have an economic and social impact in a number of sectors, such as oil and gas, shipping industries, and tourism and leisure. This research also has wide-reaching implications for a number of EU policy areas, including fisheries, environment, agriculture and rural development, and therefore must be dealt with at a Community level.'
Another compelling reason for carrying out marine research at European level is the sheer scale of such activities. 'It requires massive investments and infrastructures that Member States acting alone cannot provide. The geographic coverage and lengthy timescales required for certain initiatives is yet another factor,' said Mr Mathy. Finally, he added that marine research also calls for global cooperation, and therefore Europe has to structure itself in order to be able to participate in international initiatives.
Given these arguments, Mr Mathy is convinced that ocean science should play a prominent role within FP7, but he believes that the research community itself has an important job to do to secure the high level of visibility that they desire.
'Marine scientists must continue to strive to add value at a European level in order to gain future Community support - the framework programmes are not simply a means of topping up national funding,' he warned. Further efforts are also required in the commercial transfer of research results: 'Exploitation has always been a weakness, and it is my personal view that there should be a dedicated element within the structure of every EU funded project aimed at exploiting the results.'
During the conference, a number of delegates asked Commission representatives to explain why so few small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are involved in its marine science programmes. 'There is a real deficit of SME participation in the area of environmental research, due mainly to the absence of immediate profit in this area and the small size of the market for environmental technologies,' Mr Mathy accepted. He expressed the hope that the EU environmental technologies action plan (ETAP) would help to address the current situation, arguing: 'SMEs will definitely have a role to play here.'
The tasks facing the marine research community, therefore, are clear. Scientists must strive to ensure that their activities contribute to the EU's economic and social goals, provide input into wide areas of policy, exploit the results of their work, and structure themselves in a way that facilitates European and global cooperation.
'The encouraging message is that the marine science and technology sector has already mobilised itself to meet these challenges, and the EUROCEAN 2004 conference was a great symbol of the partnership that will be required,' concluded Mr Mathy.
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