Report of reflection meeting on future of COST within European Research Area, 28 January 2002

February 19, 2002

Brussels, 18 February 2002

Full text

European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research - COST. Secretariat. Summary of Conclusions of the meeting of the JAF Reflection Group held in Brussels on 28 January 2002. Outcome of proceedings. Brussels, 13 February 2002 (docoument COST 208/02).

.... 3. REPORT OF THE ASSESSMENT PANEL

The Members of the Assessment Panel presented the Group with their draft final report, which takes into account the remarks made by delegations during the last CSO Meeting.

According to the panel:

- COST-type co-operation activities are necessary, especially to generate a substantial contribution to ERA;

- Bottom-up is a valid approach;

- COST is to a certain degree a Community initiative though it is shaped intergovernmentally;

- COST is complementary to the Framework Programmes and is cost-effective;

- COST should endeavour to open up its cooperation towards the Mediterranean partners outside Europe.

The final report, including the executive summary, would be submitted to the CSO for its March meeting.

4. PROGRESS AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE WORK OF THE SUB-GROUPS

- Working Group "Future of COST"

The Group examined a draft of the Report from the Committee of Senior Officials to the Ministerial Conference, distributed by the Working Group on the Future of COST (Chairman: John BARTZIS) as a room paper.

Having heard observations from the Swiss, Danish, Austrian, Greek and UK delegations, the Members of the Assessment Panel and the Chair of the CSO, the Group elaborated a modified version of the above text, attached as Annex 1.

- Working Group "Impact of COST"

The Group will discuss the findings of this Working Group during its next meeting in April.

5. PREPARATION OF MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE

The Commission services presented the Group with a proposal for a scientific conference on "Violence, Terror and War" to be held in parallel with the Ministerial Conference. The conference would use the results of the outgoing COST Action A10 on Restructuring/Conversion of Defence Industries and the ongoing Action A18 on domestic/street violence. A funding of approximately *70.000 was required.

The Council Secretariat stated that no additional budgetary means could be appropriated from the COST Fund for the purpose of meetings on the fringe of the Ministerial Conference.

The Group held a first exchange of opinions based on initial considerations for the follow-up of agenda points and presentations of the Ministerial Conference suggested by the Danish delegation.

6. ANY OTHER BUSINESS

Depending on the availability of facilities, the next meeting of the Group would take place in the afternoon of 18 April 2002, with the Working Groups meeting in the morning of the same day.

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ANNEX: Draft report from the Commmittee of Senior Officials adopted on 4 September 2002 to the Ministerial Conference on the State and Future of Cost

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

The COST intergovernemental organisation, established in 1971, offers a structure of co-operation and consultation among 34 member States that meets the need for European co-ordination in different research domains. Each co-ordination takes the form of a Concerted Action by way of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by a minimum of five COST countries. COST Actions, of 4 years duration as a rule, may cover any promising field of research..

Over 30 years COST has proven its value as an important instrument for co-ordination of research in Europe, in particular by taking up emerging areas of science and technology. The European scientific community participates with enthusiasm in the COST framework that allows for flexible research co-operation through setting-up efficient scientific networks. COST has seen a number of new members and a rapid growth in the volume and scope of Actions.

COST is developing according to three political objectives:

1. Mechanism for integration of new member countries into the European Community through research co-operation;

2. Open and equal access for European researchers into networks built on co-ordination of national research resources;

3. Promotion of international co-operation at the borders of Europe.

DEVELOPMENT SINCE 1997

Following up on the decisions made at the Prague Ministerial Conference in 1997, COST has changed a number of its administrative procedures and has welcomed new Member States.

Improved dissemination of the results of COST Actions has increased the awareness of the opportunities offered by COST.

An overall view of the achievements as measured against the future goals listed at the Prague Conference is given in enclosure 1. The main results can be summarised as follows:

* new harmonised procedures for continuous evaluation and monitoring of the Actions;

* the Action size increased to reach on average 15 participating countries;

* within the domain of Telecommunication and Information Science and Technology, testing of new procedures for administration of COST Actions;

* integration of 9 new member States (Estonia, Malta, Romania (1997) Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, (1999) Israel (2000), Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2001))

* creation of web-sites at the Council General Secretariat, the Commission, COST domain level (5), COST Action level (140) and national COST level (9);

* new publication policy extending support to external editors and publishers;

* extensive use of electronic communication at all levels;

* more focus on inter-disciplinary approach using "ad hoc" groups for emerging areas;

* introduction of transparent budget allocation process.

However, COST has faced problems: budget constraints have stopped the growth in the number of Actions since 1998 and more proposals for Actions qualified for support have been rejected.

COST IMPACT

The first and foremost indicators of the achievements of COST is the amount of time and resources invested in COST activities by the scientists from the COST Member States in management committees, working groups and in Technical Committees where the members act as "COST research councils". The exact value of this effort cannot be quantified with precision. However, the size of the research co-ordinated by COST in the 170 COST Actions can be estimated at more than 2 Billion * of research expenditure which is mainly funded within the Member States, involving around 20 000 scientists.

Among the impact indicators considered most important by the COST actors are:

* COST co-operation between public and private institutions has in many cases resulted in international standards which probably would not have been easily achieved without COST;

* the number of follow-up activities in terms of EU RTD Framework Programme proposals and networks in other contexts leading to closer co-operation at national and international level;

* the number of young scientists going on short term scientific missions to leading laboratories and institutes within the COST Actions;

* the growing number of Institutes from non-COST countries in COST Actions: first from European countries, and more recently from third countries, mostly industrialised countries like Canada, Japan, the United States, Russia and China as well as some international NGO's.

The statistics on the use of the COST web sites of the Commission show that the entry page to http://cost.cordis.lu is intensively used with 15 000 users per day.

Many COST Actions can be described as success stories leading to stable networks central in their respective disciplines. Emerging areas like nano-sciences have been handled in "ad hoc" groups representing several relevant Technical Committees. Nano-sciences and bio-materials are good examples of such transdisciplinary activities.

It should, however, be borne in mind that the achievements of COST have been reached without a solid dissemination and information strategy due to lack of human and financial resources.

Although some countries have established visible national COST secretariats, the overall picture has not been optimal, and COST has not been sufficiently recognised among potential COST actors in their respective countries (as shown by the majority of the national COST evaluations).

CONTINUED EFFORTS TO PROMOTE THE EUROPEAN RESEARCH AREA

The world-wide development of a knowledge based society and the crucial role of European research in that context need COST as an essential instrument in the realisation of the European Research Area (ERA). The Committee of Senior Officials takes the view that COST must retain and further develop its role, among others, coping with problems related to sustainable development, health, safety and security of the European citizen. The following characteristics and functions are particularly significant in that respect:

1. COST's flexible structure is particularly well suited for integrating European research teams, paying specific attention to young scientists and teams which have little experience of co- operation at European level including European countries that are not yet COST members.

R&D establishments outside Europe may also participate in individual Actions on a case-by- case basis where this leads to added value for European research. The principles laid down in the 1990 Council Resolution remain valid

2. COST shall continue to play a pioneering role in identifying and promoting at European level new topics, which offer potential for future R&D activities and which may be taken up at a later stage by other R&D frameworks. The COST mechanism is well suited to act as a precursor and `exploratorium' of ideas; to provide foresight and technology assessment and to address emerging needs not least at the interfaces between various scientific domains.

Work shall be pursued on topics that require co-ordination and co-operation at European level and that do not have a high priority in other European R&D frameworks. In this context, more intensive interactions with other European institutions and organisations shall be explored. It is moreover recalled that the Commission document on Synergies between the Framework Programme and COST and other European co-operation organisations calls for the establishment of an operational interface with the RTD Framework Programmes. The CSO would welcome a closer co-operation between COST and EU research programmes to meet the above requirements in an efficient and mutually productive way.

3. The efforts will continue to increase the impact of COST and strengthen the European Research Area through:

* Co-ordination of nationally-funded research activities in a "bottom-up" way, thus integrating more resources for social and economic benefit of Europe;

* Continuous establishment of new networks within scientific topics in networks, thereby delivering a solid basis for innovations and new knowledge for the benefit of European Industry and Society;

* More structured dissemination and exploitation of the results achieved within COST as well as promotion to the public in order to stimulate scientific awareness in Europe.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

To enable a dynamic development within the European Research Area, allowing COST to operate with more than 34 Member States, taking into account the above mentioned objectives as well as the recommendations of the COST Assessment Panel, plans for the future include:

* The full use of the strong bottom-up capability of COST to address user-driven R&D subjects with low priorities in other European R&D initiatives and to address areas of common interest in ways that other initiatives cannot easily do.

* Use of the COST experience for co-ordinating national resources in the making of ERA, particularly in the role of a catalyst for the opening of national research programmes, e.g. using Article 169

* Establish operational interfaces with the different General Directorates of the Commission to meet the aims of the European Research Area and ensure complementarity with the RTD Framework Programme

* Increase COST's impact by establishing systematic interactions with EUREKA, ESF, ESA, EMBO and other relevant initiatives

* Improve the Actions selection and monitoring mechanism, ensuring scientific excellence and helping in opening new frontiers in creative research

* establish more structured plans for dissemination and exploitation of the Actions results, promoting at the same time public awareness

* Stimulate international co-operation at borders of Europe, particularly towards the New Independent States at the East, and the Mediterranean and Middle East Countries at the South and South East

* Restructure COST management at all levels in order to meet COST objectives in an optimal and efficient way and reduce bureaucracy, at the same time preserving the basic principles of COST

* aim at securing sufficient financial resources to match users' needs for support of new actions.

FINAL COMMENTS

1. Recognising COST as a valuable mechanism in co-ordinating European research activities to achieve the European Research Area, appropriate budgetary and staffing support for COST should be ensured in the FP6.

2. The present use of the COST central funding, to which COST Member States pay a yearly contribution in relation to their GDP to the COST fund, will be optimised as a flexible and effective instrument to stimulate promotional and other activities. The need and the possibility of extending these national contributions will be examined, particularly in the context of integrating new countries into COST as well as its central capacity to receive European Community contribution.

3. In order to continue to obtain the positive results gained from COST and to retain its vitalising effect on co-ordinated research in Europe, the COST Member States should continue to endeavour to support the implementation of COST Actions in accordance with their national financial regulations and research policies and programme.

Comments: as in the last Prague CSO report, some items could be politically relevant at the level of final comments. New political objectives will be probably and necessarily adopted by the Ministers (eventually connected to the "Copenhagen Declaration") on:

* New geographical areas to be integrated to European Community policies through research co-operation particularly towards New Independent States, Mediterranean and Middle East Countries;

* Contribution to the opening of national research programmes, using COST Actions achievements and results (see 30 October 2001: "The Research Council invited Member States to identify possible specific topics for pilot programmes where the use of Article 169 would be appropriate, in close liaison, where necessary, with the Commission, and to explore the possibilities offered by Eureka and COST";

* Support the long-term goals of ERA (what will be the target co-ordination of by developing open access, and having benefit and return from the "bottom-up" approach)

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