UK lobby seizes Euro initiative

July 17, 1998

For the first time in negotiations over Euro-research there is an articulate voice speaking for those most actively involved - the researchers themselves.

Researchers funded through the EU's Marie Curie Fellowship scheme have been watching developments in the European Union's Framework V programme with concern.

Bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels, embroiled in the final stage of negotiations after the Council of Ministers reached a general consensus on its scope late last month, have hit a snag: the gap between the European Commission proposal for the budget, agreed by the European Parliament at ECU 16.3 billion (Pounds 10.9 billion) and the ministers' insistence that it must be held down to ECU 14 billion.

A conciliation committee to resolve the differences has been announced but it is unlikely to complete its work until the autumn.

The United Kingdom researchers funded by the Marie Curie scheme - which is identified in European Commission proposals as a vital part of the effort to increase human research capital by increasing mobility both between member states and between universities and industry - have been at the forefront of efforts to ensure the commission is fully briefed on the implications of the new programme.

The group has also taken a lead in Europe by establishing an information network for researchers based in the UK, with contacts and advice for dealing with often-baffling bread-and-butter issues such as social security, taxation and administration.

Since the EC initiated its research grants in 1958, it is estimated that it has supported about 5,000 researchers with funds allocated through a patchwork of programmes under several European research policies. They lacked a common name and had no distinct identity.

As a newcomer to the European research scene, Edith Cresson, commissioner for research, education and training, suggested a common title for all EU-supported research fellows to give them a distinct identity and the Marie Curie Fellowships were born.

The fellowships are available to talented European scientists who want to further their careers - academic or industrial - through conducting research in a country other than that of their birth or residence. Research can be at postgraduate, postdoctoral or visiting professor level. The latest data shows that over the seven disciplines covered, a total of 2,589 researches were selected out of 12,236 applications evaluated.

With the newly styled scheme operational, the next step was the creation in 1996 of a Marie Curie Fellowship Association to link scientists who have completed EC research training grant programmes with the aim of strengthening the identity of the members as "excellent" European researchers.

The association has groups in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK, which has almost certainly achieved the greatest level of organisation in its short history.

That the UK should be at the forefront is no surprise. Britain was the most popular state for EU researchers to carry out their research under the EU's Human Capital and Mobility and Training and Mobility of Researchers programmes, receiving more than 1,000 fellows from 1992 to 1996 out of a total programme of just over 3,000. Germany was the second most popular. But while it "exported" more (560) than it received (330), just 230 Britons were carrying out research in other member states under the schemes, figures that reflect the imbalance under the Erasmus/ Socrates student mobility programmes for undergraduates.

In a message to the UK group as the Framework V programme was being drafted by the Commission, Madame Cresson wrote: "Helping to create and train a new generation of genuinely European highly skilled researchers, this initiative will contribute to the setting-up of the 'knowledge-based Europe', key to the success of our continent in the new millennium."

Raising and maintaining the profile of the EU mobility schemes for research training are important functions of the association. And the UK group has drawn attention to the problems associated with the strength of the pound, and to the proposals in the draft Framework V to reduce the funded period of overseas research.

Representatives from groups across the EU will attend the association's general assembly at Imperial College, London, on November 14.

The UK group's web site is at http:///www.keele.ac.uk/koss/mcf/

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