Brussels, 19 April 2002
Draft report on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the rules for the participation of undertakings, research centres and universities and for the dissemination of research results for the implementation of the European Community framework programme 2002-2006 (COM(2001) 822 - C5-0017/2002 - 2001/0202(COD)). 19 March 2002. Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy. Rapporteur: Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl. Full text
The rules for participation in the Sixth framework programme for research and the dissemination of research results differ markedly from those in the previous five programmes.
The Commission has a number of reasons for this:
1. simple and comprehensible rules - the Commission's aim is to design the rules for participation to make them easily accessible, whence the absence of an implementing regulation;
2. faster and slimmer administration - by cutting back and scrapping procedures (such as prior financial inspection) the aim is to reduce the time-lag before funds are first paid;
3. protecting the Community's financial interests - the Commission would like to reduce the budget error rate and obviously take account of the Court of Auditors' remarks. Any financial risk must be avoided and transferred to participants in research projects.
The rapporteur welcomes the principles of simpler rules, slimmer administration and protection of the Community's financial interests. It sounds so sensible that no one could seriously object to it. But regrettably, in some cases anyway these aims are pursued in such a way that they contradict the most important aim, which is to promote innovative research in Europe.
The problem areas are, specifically:
- Liability: The proposal provides for each individual participant to be jointly and severally liable for the funds from the European budget, even for funds that other participants are managing. In extreme cases this could mean the following: a participant receives funds from the Commission and has to file for bankruptcy shortly afterward. All European research funding is included in his bankruptcy case. The Commission tries to recover the funds from the other participants, but fails. It can then turn to the most accessible participant and claim the entire sum from him (joint and several liability). This is unacceptable not only to small businesses and universities, but also to large, well-funded participants. As a result the business managers of universities will not permit institute directors to conclude contracts with the Commission when they involve such risks.
Another solution is needed here.
- Consortium contract: This contract regulating internal relations in a consortium has become common practice. Most consortia conclude an agreement of this kind. It has the advantage that they are compelled to recognise many possible problems at the beginning of a project and find solutions to them. But the Commission does not so much as mention such contracts in its proposal. This raises the risk of further projects that do not clarify matters from the start and so run into disputes later - and do so on the basis of the decision (by the Council in the Fifth FRP, by Parliament and the Council in the Sixth). True, every consortium contract will be different and reflect the requirements of the participants and the project. But there must be minimum conditions and a checklist for the contract. It should specify, for instance, what happens when a participant withdraws, a new one joins, and so on.
By changing the liability rules and introducing the consortium contract a number of amendments become necessary. The liability rules were one of the Commission's main.pillars. As the Commission is now drawn more closely into taking responsibility, improvements are needed elsewhere, to ensure the Commission is better informed and provide for the relevant inspections.
The consortium contract must be mentioned in various places, minimum conditions must be settled and the coordinator's role defined.