Brussels, 21 Oct 2002
'I always said that the Sixth Framework Programme [FP6] was only a step towards creating a European Research Area,' said EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin in an interview with CORDIS News. Now that FP6 has been adopted, the Commissioner will 'of course' be turning more of his attention towards achieving that ultimate goal: the pooling of European resources and knowledge to create a European Research Area (ERA).
The Commission has already published one new communication outlining steps towards the creation of a European Research Area, and is soon to release two more. On 16 October, the communication 'The European Research Area: Providing new momentum - strengthening - reorienting - opening up new perspectives', which analyses progress made and areas for further action, was published. Communications on achieving the three per cent target (research spending as a percentage of GDP), agreed at the Barcelona Council, and the role of universities in the knowledge society are to follow shortly. 'These are all elements contributing to the ERA,' says Mr Busquin.
The Commissioner is aware of the limits to what he himself can do. 'My role is to be the catalyser. The catalyser stimulates,' Mr Busquin told CORDIS News. One area where Mr Busquin is reliant upon others to help him achieve his aims is researcher mobility. Differences between provisions for health insurance and social cover are at the heart of the problem, and the Commissioner realises that the EU's competence in these areas is 'not defined'. 'The USA has a more interdependent social system,' says Mr Busquin wistfully.
'Step by step' is how the ERA will be created, says Mr Busquin. He highlighted that services such as CORDIS are already 'very helpful' for researchers, enabling them to find out about opportunities in European research on the Internet. The Marie Curie Fellowship initiative, which provides European placements for pre and post-doctoral researchers, has also stimulated mobility.
Mr Busquin also supports the idea, put forward by François-Xavier de Donnea, Minister President of the Brussels Capital region in Belgium, of a 'European scientific visa'. He explained that he is working together with his colleague António Vittorino, Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs. But, he cautions, 'there is no miraculous solution. It is not easy.'
The Sixth Framework Programme was, as confirmed by Mr Busquin, designed to encourage the development of the ERA. The new instruments are therefore aimed at increasing collaboration between researchers. 'Integration is a parameter for evaluation for the proposals submitted as an integrated project or a network of excellence,' says the Commissioner.
Understanding of the new instruments, as demonstrated by the recently submitted expressions of interest for FP6, is 'neither too high or too low,' claims Mr Busquin. He is confident that any misunderstandings will be cleared up by the time calls for proposals are published, 'which is when it matters,' he says. He maintains that the call for expressions of interest was a valuable exercise on two counts: it encouraged researchers to form potential networks, and motivated the relevant actors to study the proposals for FP6.
Details on the new instruments and other aspects of FP6 will be on hand at the FP6 launch event in Brussels on 11 to 13 November. The event has two aims, explained Mr Busquin: to offer information and to act as a huge meeting place for the relevant actors.
The road to the adoption of FP6 was not always entirely smooth, the final hiccup being a disagreement between Member States on whether or not the EU should fund human embryonic research. A compromise placing a moratorium on such research until the end of 2003, agreed in September, will enable FP6 to be implemented on time. By December 2003, a set of conditions specifying exactly which types of research can and cannot be funded under FP6 will be drawn up following discussions between the EU institutions and the Member States.
Mr Busquin declares himself satisfied with the compromise because 'it's a compromise.' He admits that he would have preferred not to have an embargo on certain types of research, but sees that 'a compromise was necessary. There was a problem.' He also sees the compromise as a 'positive formula' as it will involve 'democratic dialogue'.
The Commissioner is hopeful that the moratorium will be lifted, but stops short of predicting exactly what will happen at the end of the discussion period. 'The compromise is an evolutionary mechanism,' claims Mr Busquin. Even if a common position cannot be found by the Member States, some controversial aspects of stem cell research could be allowed in the EU, implied Mr Busquin, highlighting the situation in the USA, where 'California wants to do it [controversial forms of stem cell research] even if President Bush doesn't want it.'
For further information on FP6 and ERA, please visit: http://www.cordis.lu/rtd2002 For further information on the FP6 launch event, please visit: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/confe rences/2002/index_en.html