Brussels, May 2004
The UK government has become one of the first to initiate a consultation process with a view to preparing its position on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), due to begin in 2006.
The consultation document, from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), makes it clear that the government is in favour of increasing research funding, but that this money should be taken from existing areas of EU expenditure rather than an enlarged EU budget. 'The Government believes that the EU budget should be stabilised at current expenditure levels, and should not exceed one per cent of EU GNI [gross national income]. It also supports the EU aspiration to raise R&D [research and development] spending towards three per cent of GDP by 2010,' states the paper.
An annexe to the consultation document justifies an increase in research spending with words not dissimilar to those often spoken by EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.
'The European research effort remains too fragmented, too compartmentalised and insufficiently connected to international cooperation. Moreover, Europe devotes only two per cent of its GDP to research, compared with 2.7 per cent in the United States and more than three per cent in Japan. Europe has not been able to attract the world's best researchers, and many excellent European scientists still choose to work in the US,' reads the paper.
Support at EU level should focus on five main objectives, according to the UK government. The first is 'Stimulating the dynamism, excellence, creativity and productivity of European research by giving financial support to projects carried out by individual research teams selected on a competitive basis.' This priority is linked to basic research, and is based on the US National Science Foundation.
The EU should also strengthen research capacities in terms of both infrastructures and human resources, states the paper. Another objective is to encourage public-private partnerships for technological research through initiatives based on the technology platforms concept.
Poles of excellence should be created through networking and collaboration at laboratory level, while national and regional research programmes and policies should be better coordinated.
The UK has done fairly well in the early stages of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), but the government is concerned that industry participation is low. It is believed that one of the new instruments in particular, Networks of Excellence, does not correspond to the requirements of businesses, many of which are pursuing flexible and dynamic technology strategies. The time taken to select projects and then conclude negotiations is also seen in the UK to be off-putting for industry, and is held responsible in the paper for a falling interest among businesses in coordinating projects.
The UK government's initial research has led to the shortlisting of a number of requirements for FP7. These include: clearer outcomes-focused objectives, addressing competitiveness, policy aims and research capacity; appropriate funding instruments that have been thoroughly tested in pilot actions; streamlined administration and delivery, perhaps based on 'existing successful mechanisms' such as Eureka; and stronger emphasis on the exploitation of results.
The UK government voices its support for the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) in its consultation document. It has been suggested that there could be a case for abolishing or significantly reducing direct funding for the JRC, and instead routing funding through the customer DGs in the European Commission. The UK rejects this proposal, saying 'The JRC's role is [...] valued as a visibly impartial provider of advice with no national or commercial links. A more client-driven approach might undermine this standing.'
The document contains a variety of questions, aimed at collating the opinions of stakeholders in the UK. Questions are listed under six headings: requirements and aims; science and human capital; business and competitiveness; support for policy; funding instruments and research priorities; and delivery and UK support. The consultation will close on 26 July, after which a position paper on FP7 will be prepared, to be published in early autumn 2004. To access the UK consultation document, please visit: http://www.ost.gov.uk/ostinternational/f p7 Remarks: The consultation will close on 26 July