Brussels, 12 Nov 2002
A certain amount of bravery is necessary on the part of politicians if research is to be genuinely coordinated at a European level, said Hans-Olaf Henkel, President of Germany's Leibniz Association, in his keynote address to the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) launch conference on 11 November.
'Although we may accept the necessity of European research integration, we are also aware of the problems. Coordination at a European level needs considerable decisions, which must be explained to the electorate at a regional level. Politicians must be very brave,' he said.
Mr Henkel added that Europe's leaders have not done badly so far. He said that the European Council deserves respect 'for making such an encouraging start.' With this statement, Mr Henkel was referring not only to the new and innovative Sixth Framework Programme, but also to the decision made at the Barcelona Council in March 2002 to increase research expenditure to three per cent of national GDPs by 2010.
In his opening speech, Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt underlined the importance of this target, saying that only when research spending has reached this level will Europe be able to compete with the USA and Japan. 'Only then will we be able to pursue the research necessary for the 21st century,' he added.
Highlighting the importance of science and technology for economic growth, Mr Verhofstadt also claimed that the field is responsible for between 25 and 50 per cent of economic growth.
How should European research be strengthened? 'Governments should do what they say, deliver what they promise, put their money where their mouth is,' said Mr Henkel. There are role models, he added, such as Sweden and Finland, which are already devoting more than three per cent of their GDP to research.
EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin recognised the challenge faced by some Member States and candidate countries in raising their research spending to such a level, but insisted that the goal 'acts as an objective to encourage everyone to progress.'
Mr Henkel claimed that the new instruments introduced in FP6 have made the programme more political than its predecessors by using funding to tackle the weaknesses in European research. However, he made the plea that 'we should not fall into the politicisation of research', and while stating that FP6 is a 'turning point' and an 'instrument of transition', questioned whether FP6 is, in fact, too ambitious and in need of a longer period of transition.
But, 'we have no choice but to be successful. The challenges to society today can only be tackled through advancing science and technology,' said Mr Henkel.
In a statement again directed towards national governments, Mr Henkel said that 'research must no longer be regarded as an area of national prestige.' He emphasised however, that the concept of competition is still vital. 'Competition must remain the first principle of research,' he said. 'You get competitive through competition,' he added.