Brussels, 29 Oct 2002
In their respective countries they are the sources of information on EU research programmes, but from 28 to 30 October in Brussels, the national contact points (NCPs) were themselves being prepared for the Sixth Framework Programme at a special Commission training event.
Each Member State and associated country has designated NCPs who provide information on the European Framework Programmes for research to organisations within their territory. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) will be launched on 11 November, and the Commission event is designed to inform NCPs of the specifics of the new programme.
CORDIS News spoke to NCPs from three different European countries and asked them how their roles would change under FP6, and what affect the new framework would have on research in their countries.
Research institutions, universities and companies from the Netherlands have a strong track record of participation in the EU's previous framework programmes. More than 500 expressions of interest for FP6 included Dutch partners, and the country's government would like to see the Netherlands represented on every collaborative project. Whilst unlikely, this sentiment reflects their ambition to take a leadership role in European research.
Eelco Denekamp is the EU-liaison manager at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and one of the country's NCPs. He believes that FP6 will be more competitive and more selective than previous programmes, and says that many researchers within the Netherlands still need to adjust to the new system.
One of Mr Denekamp's key aims is to expand the network of other NCPs with whom he is in contact, due to the increased emphasis on international collaboration in FP6, and the inclusion of EU candidate countries as full partners for the first time. 'We have a national programme of assistance for accession countries, and our aim is to proactively find partners from candidate countries to work on Dutch-led projects,' he said.
FP6 presents the smallest of the candidate countries, Malta, with challenges of a different nature. With a strong emphasis on the critical mass and quality of research partners in the new programme, Maltese institutions will have to optimise their limited resources to sustain the good progress they made under the last framework programme.
Ray Muscat, NCP and operations manager at Kordin, says that full integration into FP6 is the only viable option for a 'micro country' such as Malta, but expects some initial resistance to the changes that this will entail. 'The structure for FP6 is simpler and has a stronger focus on SMEs [small to medium sized enterprises[, which will benefit Maltese research,' he said. He feels, however, that the process of clustering research capabilities within the country in order to achieve the required levels of expertise will be a challenge.
Jesmond Xuereb is an NCP from the Malta Council for Science and Technology, and he hopes that the changes brought about through Malta's involvement in FP6 will go beyond the linking up of institutions. He told CORDIS News: 'I hope that our effective partnership in FP6 will justify an increase in national spending on Maltese research. Results from FP5 have helped to strengthen the case, but I hope that FP6 will drive the message home.'
It's not only the smaller countries that are pleased by the increased focus on SMEs under FP6. Jayne Sutcliffe from Beta Technology is the NCP for innovation and SMEs in the UK, and is positive about the resources available for smaller companies within the new programme. 'There is lots of money available for SMEs, but the challenge is getting them involved,' she said. 'The overriding priority for small enterprises has to be managing the business, but the opportunities are there.'
And it is not only the SMEs themselves that will benefit from involvement in collaborative projects, says Ms Sutcliffe: 'The partnership of SMEs will lend projects a totally different perspective. Small, dynamic companies have totally different drivers from large corporations and research institutions.'
It is obvious, then, that NCPs at the training session will focus on those aspects of FP6 that are most relevant to the realities of research in their particular country. But despite their different approaches to the programme, the collective networking of NCPs from over 30 European countries at the event, and the preparations that they are all making, suggest that the changes between FP5 and FP6 will be much more than in name alone.
For further information on FP6: http://www.cordis.lu/fp6