Brussels, 14 Jul 2005
'Concentrating our efforts in Europe on knowledge has no real alternative. I do not underestimate the problems that we currently face,' concluded EU Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik in his speech to the informal Competitiveness Council in Cardiff on 11 July.
The meeting allowed ministers to meet informally early in the Presidency and engage in discussions in preparation for the formal Councils in October and November.
Before focusing on key matters for the future of European Research, Commissioner Potocnik commented the delicate moment faced by the EU. He said that even if citizens were split on the Constitution, they were united in their analysis of Europe's main challenge: guaranteeing their economic and social future while protecting against the challenges of globalisation.
The Commissioner is convinced that the EU has already formulated the right answer to this challenge - the knowledge based economy. 'Building on what Europe can do best, providing excellent education, allowing excellent research, making room for creativity and innovation. That is what our Lisbon strategy is about', he said, adding 'probably the reality is that here we are going too slow and not far enough.'
On the negotiations on the future European Budget, Potocnik underlined the gap between the analysis and the capacity to act. While there is unanimity in the view that knowledge is the key to Europe's competitiveness, and that 'not acting now will make it more difficult and expensive to act later', he regretted that 'the signs are that the future EU research budget could remain close to what was the last compromise proposal in June.'
The Commissioner enumerated the various challenges that the proposed Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) sough to address: the European Research Council, new infrastructures, a quantum leap in security and space research, investments for ITER, further support to mobility and SMEs as well as for new Member States to exploit their capabilities, and increased funding for the cooperation programme and Technology Platforms.
With the compromise budget proposed by the Luxembourg Presidency, this would become 'a really difficult equation', noted Mr Potocnik. He expressed his doubts about whether Member States would make up the proposed decrease in the European research budget with increased spending at national level. 'And even if they would do so, this would not lead to a more coordinated, joint approach and the creation of the European research area,' he said.
As an excellent example of what such coordination can achieve, the Commissioner cited the recent choice of France to host the international fusion research facility ITER. 'Together we got the agreement, not just for a Member State, but for Europe', he underlined.
Apart from continuing his pleas for a doubled research budget, the Commissioner announced his intention to focus on three issues: the 3 per cent of GDP target for R&D investment, FP7 and better EU research.
To reach the 3 per cent target, the Commissioner explained he was working on an update of the 2003 action plan, proposing a new form of partnership. On FP7, Mr Potocnik announced that he will propose the specific programmes to the College of Commissioners for adoption in September, while warning that while there is no agreement on the Financial Perspectives, these proposals would have to be based on 'virtual money'.
As for better EU research, the focus is on two key factors: simplification of procedures and finding ways to ensure that the EU does not simply turn money into research, but also turns research into money. 'One of Europe's weaknesses is that we are champions in identifying and financing research, but not in using the results,' he said. The involvement of industry in shaping EU actions and then guaranteeing their exploitation for the greater benefit of the society is the goal, and FP7 foresees various means to achieve it, he concluded. To read the full text of Mr Potocnik's speech, please: click here