Brussels, 08 March 2002
Candidate countries will not be disadvantaged by the new instruments proposed for the Sixth Framework programme (FP6) nor the different starting points at which the countries will begin fully participating in the programme, according to Research DG Director-General Achilleas Mitsos speaking at the conference 'European enlargement: new opportunities for research funding', held in Bonn, Germany on 7 March.
Representatives from various candidate countries praised the idea of integrated projects and networks of excellence, but expressed concern that their lack of facilities may mean that they lose out in the next Framework programme,
'All players are playing by the same rules, but do not have the same opportunities at the beginning. They are coming from different starting places,' said Dr Karel Jungwirth, former vice president of the Czech Academy of sciences. Professor Wojciech Maciejewski, Chairman of the Commission for international programmes at the Polish University rectors' conference in Warsaw, Poland, added that he was worried integrated projects would only mean big projects, which would disadvantage smaller countries.
'The issue is not big projects versus small projects. It's not the size of the project that makes it more or less efficient,' said Dr Mitsos in response. 'The objective is not to go for big against small, but to go for integrated instead of dispersed efforts.'
Asked by CORDIS News why he thought he often has to reassure researchers that they will not lose out once FP6 is operational, he said he thought people were afraid of change. 'Change scares people. This is normal, but not necessarily right,' he said.
Dr Mitsos emphasised that FP6 will see a huge reduction in bureaucracy, and expressed his surprise that those who previously criticised the Framework programmes' bureaucracy were now questioning the simplicity which FP6 is set to bring.
Networks of excellence will also be beneficial for candidate and smaller countries he said, underlining that they are not intended to be a network of large entities and that all candidate countries have excellent scientists. He also told CORDIS News that, following a call for expressions of interest, the core of the network will begin to form. 'The networks will grow. They will bring people together who have not been cooperating. It's a process,' said Dr Mitsos. Dr Jungwirth, was however concerned that a lack of facilities in some countries, mean that 'there is a difference between excellent scientists and excellent labs'.
In a discussion on the often weaker research infrastructure in the candidate countries, Andrzej Siemaszko, from the Polish Academy of science and also the national contact point in Warsaw requested that the EU's structural funds be used to improve research infrastructure in the candidate countries. Karsten Brenner from the German Federal Ministry of education and research also stated that the Community should consider whether it could provide 'even more specific support to the applicant countries trying to strengthen their industry's innovation basis.'
Responding to the proposal, Dr Mitsos reminded participants that the allocation of these funds is decided by the Member States and not by the Commission. While he conceded that this is indeed the case, Norbert Kroó, Secretary-General of the Hungarian Academy of scientists told CORDIS News that he would like to see the Commission influence the Member States' discussions on the allocation of structural funds. 'The Commission could say 'we would like to have some of the money spent on research infrastructure',' said Professor Kroo.
Dr Mitsos declared his opposition to the use of such funds for research in candidate countries, claiming that he fought against cohesion measures during preliminary discussion on FP6 because 'the worst possible assumption is that candidate countries are less than excellent and that they need something to become excellent. [...] This doesn't mean we shouldn't encourage participation, but we shouldn't use a bonus,' he said.
Troubled by the concern expressed by researchers, Dr Mitsos announced that seven seminars will take place during March, which will examine the costs and benefits of the different instruments for each FP6 priority area. 'We are ready to reply to any initiative, to explain and to analyse,' Dr Mitsos told CORDIS News.
During April, the Commission will also meet with representatives from the candidate country research ministries in order to discuss the legal basis for the candidate countries' participation in FP6, namely what the financial contribution of the candidate countries should be, whether it should continue as it has been, or whether it should change.
'The Commission view is that it wants to be sure the candidate countries will fully participate, and therefore won't bring about proposals that will make it difficult to do this,' said Dr Mitsos. 'The contribution must be the same for all candidate countries,' he added.
More important for Dr Mitsos is that the candidate countries will be participating in the next Framework programme, and that this 'should not be seen as a concession, as lip service. [...] It is clearly in the interest of present Member States, future Member States and more generally, Europe,' he said.
Professor Kroo welcomed this statement and asserted that it is important for the candidate countries to participate in FP6 from day one, 'not because we fear we will lose out on euros, but because it is important for other members to see us as full participants from the beginning, and not to hesitate about working with us.'
The Bonn event was organised by the European Commission, the German Federal Ministry for education and research and the European liaison office of the German research organisations (KoWi).
For further information, please consult the following web address: http://www.kowi.de/aktuelles