Brussels, 21 Jun 2004
As the reigns of the Eureka network were passed from the French to the incoming Dutch presidency in Paris on 18 June, ministers and representatives from its 33 member states, as well as the EU, called for a greater synergy between the initiative and the EU's research framework programmes.
The focus of the 21st Eureka ministerial conference was to review the successes of the past year under the French chair, and to adopt strategies for the future orientation of the initiative. The message that emerged from discussions was that cooperation between Eureka and other actors in the European Research Area is central to European competitiveness.
In their conclusions, government representatives urged the Commission and the Dutch presidency to 'develop greater coherence between Eureka and the Framework Programme of the EU' including the possibility of 'setting up concrete financing mechanisms' to reinforce this synergy.
'Given the initiative's capacity to listen to industry and operate in a bottom-up method, company heads have told our representatives how important Eureka is to them and have asked them to improve the system,' the French Minister for Research, François d'Aubert, told the conference. 'We must develop the maximum synergies possible between Eureka's initiatives and projects and other European instruments, especially the framework programmes.'
In support of this course of action, delegates repeatedly pointed to two statistics in particular: Eureka's ability to secure a participation rate of 40 per cent by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in its activities, and its success in generating substantial private involvement in research initiatives, which in 2004 amounted to 70 per cent of the total invested in Eureka projects.
These achievements are consistent with the EU's competitiveness goals and, in the case of stimulating SME participation in collaborative research, provide a favourable comparison with the achievements of the framework programmes, which has struggled to meet its 15 per cent target for SME involvement in all thematic priority areas.
When asked by CORDIS News whether, given its popularity among Europe's smaller enterprises, a proportion of the Framework Programme budget should be diverted to the Eureka initiative as a more efficient way of meeting the EU's commitments on SMEs, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin highlighted the fact that Eureka applies rules that are designed to be specific to industry participation, whereas 'the Framework Programmes have a Community approach, and are based on EU decision making and priorities,' he said.
'Nonetheless, it is obvious that the issues are often the same and certain research areas [...] have benefited both from Eureka and the framework programmes, so they will be interacting more in technology platforms, for example, with five, ten or even 20 year visions for research,' the Commissioner added.
As a signal of the drive for increased complementarity between the two programmes, Commissioner Busquin pointed to the initiative taken by the outgoing French chair of Eureka to establish a joint working group between the network and the Commission's Research DG. 'In this way, if we find that certain things are done better by Eureka, then this type of cooperation will be able to address that fact.'
Earlier, CORDIS News spoke to Robert Havas, the Director for R&D (research and development) financing and cooperation programmes for Thompson, a leading global digital video imaging company and major participant in the Eureka network. Mr Havas said that he felt there was an ideal balance between EU initiatives and Eureka, but realised that each had their own strengths and weaknesses.
'We appreciate working with the Commission through the FPs [framework programmes] as they are high-level and well informed, and we are able to contribute to the definition of the work programme. However, sometimes from our perspective we feel a little squeezed by the narrowness of the thematic priorities, which can be somewhat politically correct,' explained Mr Havas.
'Eureka is different - it has a bottom-up approach where industrial partners set the agenda themselves, and where the system is slightly more flexible. On the downside, however, Eureka can be unstable. For example, you can work hard to put together a project consortium, only to see it fall apart because one member country decides not to provide funding,' he added.
CORDIS News put this point to the outgoing French chair of Eureka, Jean-Paul Jacamon. 'There's no doubt that this is a difficult issue, and we have worked hard to secure long-term financial commitment from Eureka member states. However, whenever we do create a new cluster, for example, we do ensure that it will enjoy lasting support,' he said.
'People will naturally focus on the trains that arrive late, but they also have to recognise that many more arrive on time. The framework programmes, which have a central budget, are more stable in this respect, but then people complain that the process of securing funding is too bureaucratic!' Mr Jacamon added.
As far as the Commission and Eureka's member states are concerned, rather than tinkering with both programmes in an attempt to translate the strengths of one to the other, the answer lies in increasing cooperation between the two separate initiatives.
Mr d'Aubert said: 'We must mobilise the maximum financial instruments, both public and private, and consider the creation of a new funding body dedicated to innovative research projects.' Many delegates agreed with the minister's view that the European Investment Bank could play a more leading role in the financing of such initiatives, and the EU Structural Funds were cited as another source of income.
After the ministers had presented their conclusions, CORDIS News asked the UK Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Sainsbury, for his assessment of the conference. 'I thought it was rather good,' he began.
'Having noticed a decline in UK industrial participation under the Sixth Framework Programme, we wanted to express the view that there should be more cooperation between Eureka and the FP [Framework Programme], as the former is very successful in this regard. Having spoken to other countries at the conference, it appears that they have also noticed this declining trend, and that they share this common view. This is an ideal opportunity for the framework programmes to support Eureka,' he concluded.
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