The IST Prize Village
at the IST 2000 exhibition.
ooking forward to FP6, Robert Verrue, Information Society Director-General, summed up the status of FP5's IST programme at its mid-point. Worth a total of 1.6 billion, 1,050 projects have so far been selected, with small and medium-sized enterprises forming over a quarter of the participants.
The IST programme, he said, linked the strategic initiatives of eEurope and the European Research Area, but in helping Europe to build an information society adapted to the needs of its citizens it faced a number of significant challenges:
- how to focus efforts on the key questions in order to achieve critical mass
- how to address long-term objectives, where risks may be higher
- how to apply relatively small EU resources to amplify larger investments made by industry and Member States
- how to link the EU's regulatory and research functions more closely
- how to simplify the programme and keep it flexible
Looking back, looking forwards
The results of a five-year assessment of the EU's information technology programmes (1995-2000) were presented by Professor Alain Pompidou of the Cochin Medical Faculty(1). The expert panel concluded that IST was well-managed, was oriented towards industry, and was good on exploitation with significant indirect impacts on skills and co-operation capacity. The merger of the EU's ICT research activities into a single IST programme had been a good idea, but the Commission had underestimated the difficulties, had not learnt some lessons, and needed to re-examine the programme's Key Actions.
In FP6 (2002-2006), the panel recommended streamlined administration including defined 'service levels' covering, for example, the speed of proposal evaluation, contract signature and payment. The programme should provide better support tools and tolerate a higher level of risk, especially in the case of SMEs. Finally, it should be better marketed to a wider range of users, and should draw up a formal communications plan.
In place of Key Actions, introduced in FP5 as a way of bringing multi-disciplinary resources to bear on specific problems, Pompidou proposed a 'bow tie' design. This would concentrate on selected core technologies (such as artificial intelligence and displays) which feed into integrated enabling technologies (such as e-commerce and internet) and produce applications (for instance in health and administration).
"Research is already global, and FP6 must recognise this," said Erika Mann, MEP, noting that researchers from any country can already take part in Framework Programme projects, even though taxpayers' money is rightly restricted to those countries which contribute to it financially.
"The research policy of today is the social policy of the future," said Paul Rübig, MEP and member of the Budget Committee. For him, Europe's RTD effort should focus on five objectives:
- networking and co-ordination of Member State research
- SME participation in research - a 'fast track' for small firms should be administered by Member States
- a strengthened research infrastructure
- more mobility and better career prospects for Europe's young researchers
- better links between science, society and citizens - "Ensuring a healthy old age for Europe's citizens should be a priority," he said.
Chips in everything
The IST Advisory Group (ISTAG) recommends a focus on 'ambient intelligence' - information technologies which can be embedded in houses, cars and other consumer products - as the programme's sole priority for 2001, its chairperson, Professor Angelo Airaghi, told the conference. This field will open up tremendous opportunities for industry, the group believes.
The current president of the EU Research Council, Christian Pierret, French Secretary of State for Industry, stressed the need to define a European model for the information society. Europe needed secure networks with free access to encryption, and it should make every effort to remove barriers to research progress.
The world is ever changing, that much seems certain. Nobody seems to be quite sure whether the speed of change is a good thing or not, but whatever the answer, change demands a response. We cannot just accept change, we have to outrun it. We have to control change rather than be controlled by it. This means we have to be in control of the innovations, rather than the passive consumers, or victims, of them. The IST programme is giving us the tools to take control of the innovation process.
(1) The five-year assessment of the IST programme is available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/information _society/