Brussels, 29 Nov 2005
The Competitiveness Council has reached a provisional agreement on the structure of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), providing the basis for future discussions following the opinion of the European Parliament and the outcome of the Financial Perspectives debate.
Member State research ministers approved the so-called 'partial general approach' by a large majority on 28 November. The Council describes the approach as 'a way of fixing Council discussions on non-budgetary elements that are linked to the pending negotiation on the financial perspectives'.
Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, who attended the meeting on 28 November, welcomed the agreement. 'Today signals an important step forward in the process of making FP7 a reality. Yes, we still have a way to go, and yes, there are still many blanks to be filled in. But I think it is important to show that we are doing everything within the power of this Council to make sure that [FP7] will be ready in time.'
Mr Potocnik continued: 'The [UK] Presidency has said just now that it views FP7 as an important element in increasing the ability of the EU to realise our Lisbon strategy [...]. I hope this logic will be carried through to the budget discussions when they start next week.'
According to the provisional conclusions of the Competitiveness Council, the debate took place on the basis of a compromise text drawn up by the UK Presidency. Discussions focused on adequate support for the participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in cooperative research projects, and the implementation and structure of the proposed European Research Council (ERC).
A spokesperson for the Council told CORDIS News that in their talks on the ERC, ministers agreed that there would be a review of its structure no later than 2010. He also revealed that no fewer than six Member State delegations had made a public declaration on ethical principles in FP7, insisting that the principle of subsidiarity must apply to research and that certain activities should be left to Member States to fund. 'Embryonic stem cell research was specifically mentioned,' the spokesperson added.
CORDIS News also spoke to the deputy head of Commissioner Potocnik's cabinet, Kurt Vandenberghe, and asked him what the Council discussions had revealed about the eventual shape of FP7. 'What was reached was a virtual agreement - an agreement on what FP7 will look like if there is a doubling of the budget. If there's no doubling, then the agreement will have to be revisited,' he responded.
However, Mr Vandenberghe expressed his belief that since agreement has been reached in the Council on certain elements of the proposals, in particular on SME participation and the structure of the ERC, it makes it less likely that funding for these areas will be cut, even if the overall FP7 budget falls short of the 72.73 billion euro recommended by the Commission.
'This is the best we could have hoped for in the circumstances,' he argued, 'and in general the Council follows the Commission's proposals, while signalling two areas of primary importance - establishing a target for SME participation and a truly autonomous ERC. The Commission is sticking to its original proposals as we still have to hear the opinion of the European Parliament,' Mr Vandenberghe concluded.
During the Council meeting, Mr Potocnik also informed ministers that in response to a request at the informal European summit for the Commission to look at ways of encouraging more and better research, he is establishing a group of personalities to identify priority actions for the EU to boost its investment in research.
The group will be chaired by the former Prime Minister of Finland, Esko Aho, a champion of the country's transformation into a knowledge economy, and will also feature Antoni Subira, Catalonia's minister of industry; Jo Cornu, the former number two at Alcatel; and Professor Luke Georghiou of the Manchester Business School. 'The aim is for them to identify the actions and issues that should be put as a matter of priority to the attention of heads of state and government at their spring summit in March 2006,' Commissioner Potocnik confirmed.