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How can the candidate countries participate in FP5?

The European Commission is often asked to clarify exactly how the candidate countries are associated with the Fifth RTD Framework Programme (FP5), so what exactly is a candidate country, and how can they get involved in FP5? The candidate countries in question are among those...

The European Commission is often asked to clarify exactly how the candidate countries are associated with the Fifth RTD Framework Programme (FP5), so what exactly is a candidate country, and how can they get involved in FP5? The candidate countries in question are among those which have requested membership of the European Union, namely Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, each of which submitted their requests for membership of the EU between 1994 and 1996. Cyprus is also a candidate for membership of the EU, having submitted its request in 1990. As a result of "association agreements" negotiated between the EU and each of these countries, researchers and organisations from the candidate countries will be eligible to participate in FP5, and prospective consortia can involve researchers from these countries in their proposals for FP5 right from the start. Association with FP5 means that a candidate country contributes to the budget of the research programmes. In return, their research institutes, universities, and industry (including SMEs) will be able to participate in projects under essentially the same conditions as organisations from the Member States. From the beginning of FP5, participants from these countries may be included in proposal-making consortia alongside participants from the EU, with no separate proposals required. A minimum of one EU participant and one participant from an associated country can make up such a consortium. These eleven candidate countries will be fully associated with all of the non-nuclear research programmes of FP5. In addition, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will participate in the Euratom Framework Programme for nuclear research. The remaining candidate countries, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland will also be able to participate in nuclear research on a project-by project basis. Association is intended to speed up the candidate countries' integration into the European scientific and technological community, and their preparation for membership. However, the legal procedures to formally conclude each of these association agreements have not yet been completed, although this process is expected to be completed within the next few months. This process is separate for each agreement and depends on procedures in both the EU, and the country concerned (which may involve parliamentary approval). On the EU side, the European Parliament approved all of the agreements on 14 April 1999, which will allow the Council to complete the EU side of the procedure at the Research Council meeting on 20 May 1999. The fact that the agreements are not yet formalised may be confusing for organisations looking for partners in the accession countries. When will association be decided? And, if these countries are not officially associated, how can researchers from Member States collaborate with countries still in the pre-accession phase? In February 1999, representatives of the candidate countries and the Commission concluded that the formal procedures for association of each country should be finalised by summer 1999 - before the Commission selects the projects for funding following the first calls for proposals under FP5. Nevertheless, in view of the legal uncertainty, some fears have arisen that proposals from consortia which include partners from the pre-accession countries will be at a disadvantage. The Commission recognises this problem, and to avoid difficulties it has declared that such proposals will be treated as if these states were already associated in the evaluation process leading up to selection. In other words, project proposals will be evaluated equally on criteria such as scientific merit, eligibility, management and resources, contribution to community policy and others. Applications for fellowships by individuals from the future associate countries will also be evaluated before the final eligibility check is performed. Several other countries outside the EU will also be associated with FP5, including Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (whose association is expected to enter into force by 30 June 1999), Israel (which is already officially associated to FP5), and Switzerland (for which negotiations have been finalised, but the legal process for the conclusion of the agreement is only just getting under way). A number of other countries outside Europe have concluded cooperation agreements with the EU, under which their researchers may participate in individual projects under the Framework Programme, but must pay for their own participation. Such agreements are not the same as full association agreements, but organisations from these countries represent an additional source of partners for project consortia, and may present valuable additional skills or experience for particular projects. Countries for which cooperation agreements are in force or will shortly enter into force include the USA, Australia and Argentina.