Brussels, 09 Dec 2005
European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik has warned that the ongoing negotiations on the EU's Financial Perspectives could have negative impacts on the European project as a whole.
Speaking at an event in Brussels organised by the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft on 7 December, Mr Potocnik said that Europe's leaders must ask themselves why we have an EU budget. 'If it is just a major redistributive mechanism through which countries try to maximise flows from the EU budget to their own, then we will always end up with the wrong levels of investments and the wrong priorities,' he said.
On an evening when analogies were drawn between research and football - the theme of the night was 'Stay on the ball', in recognition of Germany playing host to the World Cup in 2006 - Mr Potocnik said that the ball is now rolling, and that the Commission is on the offensive. 'Research and innovation has acquired a prominent position across Europe.' However, the rate of growth in research expenditure in Europe is stagnating, he warned, and pointed to Eurostat figures released on 9 December showing that R&D intensity as a proportion of GDP in the EU25 fell from 1.93 in 2003 to 1.9 in 2004.
Mr Potocnik did point to the National Reform Programmes (NRPs), which Member States have now submitted to the Commission as part of the relaunched Lisbon agenda, as a source of encouragement. 'They show that policies and reforms to foster research and innovation are considered priorities by most countries [and] many countries plan significant increases in R&D investment by 2010,' he revealed. However, only 14 out of 25 countries have set fixed national targets, and he encouraged the remaining Member States to do the same.
Peter Frankenberg, Minister for Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg, said that football and politics are both team games, requiring powerful, organised teams. 'Much like research, in fact. Commissioner Potocnik is the captain of the European team - we are facing difficult times, but we are filled with team spirit,' he said.
'It remains to be seen how much money will be allocated to the Seventh Framework Programme and what it will be allocated for. If the science community and research ministries had their way, the budget would be doubled,' Professor Frankenberg continued. He noted the recent Commission annual report on research and technological development (RTD) activities, which showed that 2004 has been a successful year for EU research. 'On one had, this shows the need to support European programmes, and also the demand that exists for EU funding.'
Professor Frankenberg concluded that when it comes to international research, just like football teams, research organisations can only lead if they are part of a wider international network: 'In research, it is a fact that you can only reach the top of the table if you put together international research teams.'
Mr Potocnik said that much remains to be done at Member State and Community level, but he took courage from the fact that the EU is home to associations like the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. 'It's a comfort to me that we are on the same team and aiming at the same goal,' he finished.