The Economic and Social Committee, which represents workers, employers and other interests in the European Communities, recently adopted an opinion on the Commission's proposals for the rules for participation and the dissemination of research results of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme. The Committee outlined four main requirements in its opinion. These include the need to impart momentum when setting out rules for participation and dissemination and the need for consistency between the new approach adopted by the Programme and Community policy priorities in other fields. In addition the Committee underlined the importance of restoring the competitiveness of European industry and reforming the procedures for allocating Community assistance to research projects. In practical terms the Committee calls for a summary to be made of all the new rules and philosophy of the new Programme, and for this to be widely available to participants. Furthermore they call for uniform rules for participation in all types of action, the expansion and clarification of certain definitions, and better access for SMEs to the funding available. The particular problems posed for SMEs are, in the Committee's opinion, due to the fact that the proposed rules are based on insufficiently precise definitions. They feel that complementary measures should be contained in the proposals which: - Set out rules giving access to intermediaries as "technological mediators" alongside enterprises, in order to assist in the identification and formulation of the needs of SMEs; - Allow bodies whose activities are oriented towards SMEs and craft industries to propose and manage RTD projects designed specifically for such enterprises; - Strengthen the advisory and flanking role of information networks in the field, particularly with a view to helping SMEs to identify their real interest in participating in Community RTD actions. The opinion points out the importance of consistency with the basic policies of the EU, in particular, employment and cohesion. They stress that the management arrangements and the proposed rules for participation and dissemination must not run counter to these policies and regret that such criteria are not employed in the selection of projects and are not dealt with in greater depth. The question of complementarity between the Programme and other national and regional initiatives is also raised. In this context the Committee advocates more coordination with other Community programmes, integration of information and advice networks and more active promotion of technology dissemination. In order to address the question of international competitiveness the Committee states that any reflections and proposals on technological and economic development must take this factor fully into account. They feel that the practical details must be stated more explicitly by: - Setting out the principles whereby available resources are concentrated on the priorities of the EU; - Increase flexibility and concentration within the legal framework of the Programme; - Give priority to competitiveness in all recommendations for new approaches in implementing the Programme. The final point raised by the Committee refers to the simplification of procedures under the Programme. They advocate in particular: - The decentralisation of the pre-selection arrangements by adding elements such as national information agencies and the pre-examination of proposals; - A permanent mechanism for calls for expressions of interest, in order to identify precise research priorities and giving rise to well-targeted calls for proposals; - A system of expert assessment to be formalised in the participation rules. In addition the Committee underlines the necessity for coordination with national arrangements and have also recently adopted a specific own-initiative opinion on the provision of a broad information and exploitation network, consistent with all national and Community arrangements.
Policy making and guidelines
23 June 1998