Commission answers questions about Fifth Framework Programme
The European Commission, Directorate-General XII - Science, Research and Development, has provided answers to 12 questions about the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for Research, Technological development and Demonstration (RTD), as follows: 1. Why does it take the Commission two years or more to prepare and obtain approval for a framework programme? In order to ensure that a programme which will last for five years corresponds to the needs and desires of the European research community, and addresses the issues of which most concern the people of Europe, the Commission consults widely during the preparation phase, both before publishing its first discussion document and after. Add to this the requirement for unanimous approval in the Council of Ministers and two readings in the European Parliament, with the possibility of a "conciliation procedure" to follow, and it is easy to see that approval of the overall programme is a lengthy procedure. But it does not stop there. For each research programme, the opinion of the European Parliament must be sought before the Council can adopt it. For FP4 this amounted to 25 legal decisions in all; the structure of FP5 allowed this to be reduced to 12 decisions. 2. Why is it so difficult to keep to the scheduled timetable? The Commission adhered closely to its declared timetable. It is equally important that the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament keep to a strict schedule if the Framework Programme is to start up on time. Of course, the Commission could work faster if it consulted less widely - or not at all - but this would not help to ensure the high-quality end-result required. In fact, the Commission received over 100 formal submissions as input to the preparation of FP5, and engaged in less formal discussions with hundreds of other interested parties. 3. Everyone is talking about concentration, but will FP5 really reflect this? Isn't it just FP4 in a different package? FP5 reduces no less than 15 of the FP4 research programmes into just four thematic programmes. Within these programmes, we have resisted the temptation to include all the research areas of FP4, and have concentrated on 23 key actions, corresponding to some of the high-priority social and economic objectives of the European Union (EU). Compare this with over 50 research themes in FP4 programmes and you can see that there is a real concentration on the top priorities. 4. With the new approach of thematic and horizontal programmes, won't the management structure be unmanageable? With fewer programmes than we currently run, fewer interfaces between programmes, and increased built-in adaptability, far from being unmanageable, the new management structure will be lighter and more flexible than the current one. 5. FP5 talks about putting research at the service of the individual. But what does this really mean for the man in the street? All research is ultimately meant to benefit people, whether it's investigation into the chemistry threatening the ozone layer, improving industrial production methods, or research into AIDS or cancer. With FP5, this goal has been given rightful prominence in the planning process, so that the research objectives are being set with reference to criteria including some specifically designed to address the major concerns of the man in the street, such as employment, health, quality of life, and the environment. It is equally our aim to make this link between research and the individual clear and understandable to the general public. 6. Aren't the real problems unemployment and economic growth? What can the EU do to tackle such matters? These are indeed major problems for the EU and research has an important role to play in addressing them. One of the three sets of criteria used in selecting research topics for FP5 looks particularly at this area, specifying that research must concentrate on areas offering good growth prospects and/or where European firms can and must become more competitive. Growth and increased competitiveness will together help reduce unemployment, and research is a key component in achieving these objectives; recent studies have shown that, in G7 countries, an increase in research spending of 100 euro increases GDP by an average of 123 euro. In addition, the increased emphasis in FP5 on innovation and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises, which account for two-thirds of employment in Europe and 80% of new job creation) will help Europe take advantage of its excellent research capabilities, translating these into new products, new markets, and new jobs. 7. What do the new "key actions" mean in concrete and understandable terms? These key actions can be seen as the top research priorities within FP5, providing it with a clear mission as opposed to the more open-ended approach of FP4. They cover topics of great concern in Europe, which require the deployment of a wide range of scientific and technological disciplines - both fundamental and applied - such as the treatment of viral diseases, the management and quality of water, the development of "electronic trade", environment and health issues, and so on. Overall, 23 such actions have been proposed. Their main objective (and challenge) is to overcome the barriers, which currently exist, not only between disciplines but also between the programmes and organizations concerned. 8. It is often said that the Community programmes mostly benefit large companies. What will you do to help SMEs in the future? Considerable progress has been made in recent years to help SMEs participate in research projects. We have seen their numbers increase by 10% between the Third and Fourth Framework Programmes. But we are not satisfied. Large companies and SMEs often operate differently, particularly in the area of research (the former generally have an R&D department; the latter don't), so special measures are required. Among the six FP5 programmes, one will deal specifically with innovation and SMEs. This programme comprises a series of very concrete measures, such as "co-operative research", whereby an SME without research facilities can still participate in a project by sub-contracting its share of the research, which will help and encourage SMEs to participate in EU research programmes. 9. Some say the framework programme is just for "insiders". What is the evidence that it has benefited European interests widely? With more than 12,000 organizations involved in 1995, among which one third were new participants, one can hardly say that the EU research programmes are just for "insiders". The fact that these programmes cover nearly all the advanced areas of technology today, plus the absence of national "quotas" (research projects supported by the EU are selected on the basis of their quality only) ensures that they benefit European interests widely. Last but not least, the programmes are not concocted by a group of civil servants working in isolation in Brussels, but designed and agreed by representatives of all those concerned with European research. Thus, they largely reflect the European concerns of their time. 10. Community research seems to be getting closer and closer to the market. Will there still be basic research in FP5? Very definitely. Whilst concerns, such as competitiveness and unemployment, mean that much of our research must be close to the market, we have not lost sight of the fact that fundamental discoveries come from fundamental research, and that many high-technology industries we take for granted today originated in discoveries or inventions with little or no foreseeable market (for example the digital computer, the laser). Thus an important part of FP5 will be in the area of basic research, providing "upstream" support for the key actions and helping the EU develop its flow of ideas and its technological capability. "Free" fundamental research, however, will be limited to the programme for developing Europe's human research potential. 11. Community programmes are often criticized for being too inflexible. What are you planning to do to improve this? The recent BSE crisis highlighted this problem, and FP5 should be designed with additional flexibility built in. This should take two forms: regular, perhaps annual, updates to the work programmes; and, "free space" within each programme. This "free space" should effectively reserve funds until about 60% the way through the programme in order to be able to meet urgent needs arising from scientific breakthroughs or particular problems requiring a rapid response. 12. National budgets are under pressure. Why should the European taxpayer be ready to put large sums of money into Brussels for research? The research funded by the European Commission costs relatively little compared with national research budgets, but has a very important catalytic effect, funding thousands of research projects to the benefit of both tax-payers and their families, now and in the years to come. This modest investment achieves things that national and private-sector research can never achieve, particularly in terms of assembling top-class international research teams to address problems with a European dimension or help European industry attain world-class competitive positions.