Commission and Parliament discuss second reading of Fifth Framework Programme - 3 March 1998
Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for research, innovation, education, training and youth, spoke to the members of the European Parliament's Committee on Research, Technological Development and Energy at their meeting in Brussels on 3 March 1998. In the wake of the Council's agreement on a common position on 12 February, discussions focused on the preparation of the Parliament's second reading of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme. Significantly, the meeting took place in private without representatives of the Council present.
Both the Commission and the Parliament have already made clear that the budget figure agreed by the Council on 12 February does not meet their expectations. It will be recalled that the Commission's proposal of ECU 16.3 billion over four years was increased by the Parliament to ECU 16.7 billion, whereas the Council agreed on the much lower figure of ECU 14 billion. The Commissioner stated that ECU 14 billion represents in real terms a reduction in relation to the Fourth Framework Programme. Moreover, she continued, "If this figure were to be adopted, it would, for the first time in the EU's history, mean a reduction in our research effort".
Such a reduction would not be made up by an increase in public funding at Member State level, she noted, given the current climate of budgetary rigour. And, at a time when US President Bill Clinton has just announced a huge increase in the USA's public research spending, it would be hard to explain to Europeans why the EU is holding back she said.
The Council's budget agreement would also have a negative effect on the Joint Research Centre, according to Commissioner Cresson. While the JRC is currently being asked to extend its activities in fields such as public health, consumer protection and the fight against fraud, the Council's budget figure would require some of the Centre's activities to be cut back or dropped completely.
It seems clear that the remainder of the legislative process is going to be dominated by the three institutions' differences over the budget, as Mrs. Cresson acknowledged that "The Fifth Framework Programme, as set out in the Council's common position, appears relatively close, in its thematic directions and its structure, to that proposed by our two institutions (Commission and Parliament)".
The Commission prefers that the additional fourth thematic programme, put forward by both Council and Parliament, and taken on board by the Commission in its amended proposal, would not be split into separate structures for energy and environment. The Global Climate Change conference at Kyoto, in December 1997, at which the EU had played a constructive role, showed the interdependence of energy and environment, according to the Commissioner. The goal for the programme would be to minimize the harmful effects of energy use on the environment, requiring such questions to be addressed in an integrated manner.
The Council's common position is likely to be formally adopted in late March 1998, and will be transmitted to the Parliament for second reading. At this stage, the Parliament may adopt amendments to the common position by an absolute majority of its members, and has to deliver its report within four months at most. Parliament's second reading then goes back to the Council, and if the differences between the Commission and Parliament on the one hand, and the Council on the other, have not narrowed, then the Conciliation procedure would be initiated to bring about agreement on the Programme.