Support actions and forward planning for the Sixth Framework Programme - CREST opinion

April 10, 2002

Brussels, 9 April 2002

Scientific and Technical Research Committee ­ CREST ­ Secretariat. The scientific and technological content of the "8th priority" of the first specific programme implementing the 6th Framework Programme (FP6). CREST opinion. Brussels, 5 April 2002 (document CREST 1202/02). Full text

I. Background

1. In its opinion on the specific programmes implementing the Sixth Framework Programme (CREST 1214/01), CREST proposed "to deliver an opinion on the scientific content of the '8th priority' in due course".

2. At its 281st meeting on 8 February 2002, CREST agreed to concentrate on the scientific and technological content of the "8th priority" in respect of policy support and anticipating scientific and technological needs. The present opinion sets out the views of the Committee on this question. It was not intended to include in the opinion horizontal research activities for SMEs or specific measures in support of international cooperation.

3. Due to the flexible nature of the "8th priority", CREST, besides discussing its scientific and technological content, also found it useful to address the approach to the identification of topics for research in support of Community policies or emerging scientific and technological needs. This aspect is therefore also included in the present opinion (point V, "Further remarks").

II. General remarks

4. CREST considers that it is of fundamental importance for the effective implementation of FP6 to provide for research actions in support of Community policies, as well as to make available adequate resources for research actions not programmed in advance which can provide a flexible and effective response to new and emerging scientific and technological problems and opportunities.

5. CREST notes that the Commission proposes to dedicate the major part of the budget of the "8th priority" (350 MEURO) to research activities already specified on the basis of needs that can be identified as of now. CREST considers that the remaining part of the budget should be reserved primarily for maintaining the necessary flexibility for dealing with anticipating scientific and technological needs. CREST considers that the balance between the two areas in question (policy support and anticipating scientific and technological needs) needs to be addressed with care during the execution of the specific programmes.

6. CREST considers that the "8th priority" should be implemented as a fully integral part of FP6, bearing in mind that, in many cases, research carried out within the seven thematic priority areas contributes both to underpinning the development of Community policies and to creating solutions to new and emerging problems. CREST therefore welcomes the clarifications provided by the Commission with regard to the scientific and technological content of the "8th priority" and the way these activities relate to the thematic priorities 1-7.

7. CREST further considers that the integration of candidate countries is recognized as one of the underlying horizontal priorities in the implementation of FP6. This should be taken into account in the "8th priority" across the board and be reflected accordingly in the work programme.

III. Policy support

8. Research and technological development are not only central components of the knowledge-based economy/society; they are also central elements of the policy-making process.

Research should play an important role towards facilitating major Community policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy, the environment policy, energy policy etc. CREST therefore considers that the Commission's amended proposal on the "8th priority" is generally acceptable.

9. Projects funded primarily to support Community policies should contain a substantial research component; studies should not be systematically confused with research. Research projects should address both formulation and implementation (including impacts) of Community policies. CREST welcomes the fact that the planning of activities will be carried out by involving a broad spectrum of users. The list of policies identified in the Framework Programme needs to be reflected in the composition of the "user group".

10. The Committee is also of the view that if research results are to inform Community policy, then policy makers (including those in Member States) must have appropriate and timely information on the results of all research funded in this area.

11. CREST welcomes the fact that the initial research priorities for policy support are clearly listed but considers that, at the same time, a certain level of flexibility should be maintained.

12. CREST endorses the initial research priorities contained in the Commission's modified specific programme proposal, including areas such as the multifunctional role of agriculture, environment problems, migration issues, cultural heritage, and also addressing pre- normative research as well as measurement and testing. The action lines presented in the Commission's proposal for the specific programme are identical with those presented in the common position with no further specification or analysis.

13. CREST recognizes that the common position for this part of the "8th priority" already contains a substantial level of detail, but considers that further specification should be introduced at the level of the work programme to ensure appropriate definition of objectives. CREST suggests that support for the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy should be further elaborated in the list of initial research priorities. Some delegations recommend that working conditions and the working environment should be included.

14. CREST also considers that integration of candidate countries should be recognized as a policy priority in its own right, as well as a dimension of other policies. Annual work programmes under the "8th priority" should invite research communities throughout Europe to contribute to the solution of socio-cultural, technological and sustainability-related problems linked to EU enlargement.

IV. Anticipating emerging scientific and technological needs

15. This part of the programme, which is open to bottom-up initiatives, constitutes a new element of flexibility, which is vital to modern research policy; as such it represents a new approach in the RTD framework programme. Activities selected should have clear European added value and include fundamental research, as well as innovative RTD projects, exploring frontiers of science and technology. Preference for an interdisciplinary approach should not exclude activities dealing, where relevant, with a single research discipline not covered within the seven thematic priorities.

V. Further remarks

16. CREST considers that the work programme should be finalized and updated by the Commission on the basis of a broad consultation with the relevant stakeholders and with the close involvement of Member States in this process within the comitology procedure.

17. CREST welcomes the wide-ranging and transparent consultation which the Commission intends to conduct, but considers that further clarification is needed as to how this will be implemented. This will be especially important for the policy-oriented research, where the established Scientific Committees, the User Group (Commission services), the proposed consultation structures (including EURAB) and the programme committee should each have their respective roles and can help to encourage synergies with national research efforts. The overall aim should be to ensure that the "8th priority" is organised and implemented in such a way as to ensure the necessary links with the corresponding national policies as well as complementarity with the thematic priorities of the Framework Programme.

18. The research community must also be made aware of the new opportunities, and be encouraged to respond positively to them.

This is especially important for exploring new and emerging scientific and technological areas, where an open and flexible approach is needed to identify the appropriate topics. In this area CREST considers that, where relevant, a two-step procedure should be implemented, involving an expression of interest in the first phase and a call for proposals in the second phase.

Foresight studies can also make a contribution in informing the priority-setting process.

19. CREST supports the proposed mechanism of a continuous call for proposals in the area of identifying emerging scientific and technological needs. As in the case of support for Community policies, the procedures used for drawing up priorities should be clarified at the outset.

20. CREST endorses the Commission's proposal that the selection of projects will be based on a "peer review evaluation procedure" according to clearly defined criteria. CREST supports the notion of a regular annual programming cycle, while adopting a flexible approach for immediate needs.

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