Brussels, 12 Feb 2004
As was expected following recent comments by Commission President Romano Prodi and Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin, a proposal on the Commission's future budget between 2007 and 2013, unveiled on 10 February amongst much controversy, makes a claim for higher contributions from the EU's Member States for research and innovation initiatives at EU level.
The Commission highlights three priorities for an enlarged EU: sustainable growth; citizenship, freedom, security and justice; and making the EU a global partner. Research and innovation fall into the first priority, as growth requires 'a more dynamic and better connected Europe,' states the proposal. 'This requires a substantial change in policies to support the Union's physical and knowledge infrastructure. This means action to improve research, boost enterprise and innovation, and establish networks at European level.'
The Commission therefore calls for 'commitment appropriations' to sustainable growth to rise from 47,582 million euro in 2006 to 76,785 million euro in 2013. The EU's total budget of around 100 billion euro a year today amounts to 0.98 per cent of the EU's GDP. The Commission would now raise that figure to 1.22 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) in the years after 2007. That would still come in under the permitted upper limit of 1.24%. The proposal is however controversial, as six Member States have already stated their desire to limit expenditure to 1 per cent of GNI.
In terms of research, the Commission's proposal outlines five areas for which more funding is needed: providing grants to research teams selected on a competitive basis; strengthening physical infrastructure and human resources; encouraging public-private partnerships; stimulating the development of 'poles of excellence'; and coordination national research programmes. The proposal also outlines the importance of increased investment in the related EU policies of space and security.
Although the possibility of creating a European Research Council (ERC) is not mentioned explicitly in the proposal, the idea of 'giving financial support to projects carried out by individual research teams selected on a competitive basis at European rather than at national scale, in particular in basic research' fits the description of the proposed council. The Commission recently published a communication on 'Europe and basic research', in which it verified that it would consider funding an ERC.
Turning to infrastructure, the proposal gives the examples of European large lasers, bio databanks in genomics and computing networks as initiatives where increased investment is foreseen. The coordination of national research programmes is envisaged for research fields such as cancer, Alzheimers, nanotechnology and social and economic challenges.
These priorities, all of which would benefit from additional funding, justify an increase in national contributions, according to the Commission. Member States have already committed themselves to raising research spending to three per cent of GDP by 2010, one per cent of which is due to come from the public sector, while EU research funding currently rests at 0.04 of GDP.
'To help Europe to become a beacon of excellence attracting researchers and investments, we must remove the barriers to excellence arising from segmented national programmes. But quality improvements will not be enough,' claims the proposal. 'Increasing the research effort will also be necessary.'
But conducting research alone is not enough to ensure European growth. Promoting technology transfer is also highlighted as a priority by the Commission. 'This should be done through 'knowledge flows and innovation networks'. Innovation policy, meanwhile, 'will also foster investment in innovation, in organisational change and in innovative design solutions.'
Presenting the financial perspectives to the European Parliament on 10 February, Romano Prodi explained that the proposal was drafted by first making political choices, and then basing figures on these priorities. Limiting EU spending to one per cent of GDP would be putting numbers above politics, he said. The proposal will be available shortly from the following web address: http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/search/s earch_lip.html